Read This: Slaves Of the Internet, Unite!

For the record: We paid for this image. 
This past Sunday, we did what we always do on Sundays: We read the print edition of the paper of record, The New York Times. Yes, we are old school like that and really like getting ink on our paper. And the paper smells great, too, but we digress.

One article on the cover page of the Sunday Review caught our attention, and we wanted to share it with all of you, dear readers. Today is Halloween, so we will tackle the spooky subject of not getting paid for your work. Turns out writer Tim Kreider also has a few things to say about the subject, and as a writer for the NYT, he writes infinitely more eloquently than we do. The bottom line is: giving away your work for free stinks. And it means others don't value it. If they did value it, they would pay you for it. So don't give it away for free. This article as been quite popular, and to date, there are more than 650 comments on the online version. 

Here's the link to the brilliant article (we recommend you subscribe to the NYT, but we believe the first few articles a month are free). The author concludes his article with a smart piece of advice that he's willing to share with everyone. Actually, it's a nifty e-mail template that you can use to respond to people who want your work for free. Since the author intended this to be freely shared, we are copying it here:

Here, for public use, is my very own template for a response to people who offer to let me write something for them for nothing:
Thanks very much for your compliments on my [writing/illustration/whatever thing you do]. I’m flattered by your invitation to [do whatever it is they want you to do for nothing]. But [thing you do] is work, it takes time, it’s how I make my living, and in this economy I can’t afford to do it for free. I’m sorry to decline, but thanks again, sincerely, for your kind words about my work.

It's nice to see that translators aren't the only ones who get asked to do free work. We knew it's quite common with writers and illustrators as well, and it's great to read such on on-point essay about this important topic. What do you think, dear readers? How do you handle these tricky situations? We'd love to hear from you. 


Andie Ho on November 1, 2013 at 8:48 AM said...

My sister is a professional musician, so she gets this a lot, especially the "exposure" argument. As the author notes, often the requestors are genuinely unable to afford much. But as my sister points out, even those clients somehow find the money to pay for the catering/exhibit hall/etc.

If it makes you feel any better, I've heard that even doctors get a form of this request. At parties people will say things like "Oh, I have this mole here, if you could just take quick look at it..."

I think people don't always mean to devalue our work per se, they just think that since translation is our area of expertise, their small project will be something easy for us to dash off between paying jobs. Since our work is not physically labor intensive, it's not always immediately obvious how much work is behind it.

Zoya Nayshtut on November 1, 2013 at 1:13 PM said...

Judy and Dagmar, thank you very much for sharing this great article. It is very insightful although I can believe that there are people who would expect a haircut at no cost. The beauty salon I go to exhibits their nail care products at the local trade shows twice a year. The people from this salon told me that during the last trade show several ladies had come up to them and asked for a free manicure.

I agree it is hard to compose a polite response especially when you are taken aback by the request. I do not have a good recipe for that. The last time I was asked to do a translation as a favor happened at my friend's party where I met a jeweller who wanted to buy a machine and needed help understanding its specification (quite a few pages). I said that I could take a piece of his jewellery so he would not have to feel obliged. Needless to say, after my response the deal was off the table. Well, at least I tried.

Gabriel on November 1, 2013 at 4:21 PM said...

Talking of the paper of record I know you will enjoy the following article which I read today (also in the print edition!) All Spanish speakers know of the aspirated "s" in "estoy" in many variations of Spanish, resulting in something like "e'toy" or "toy" but it takes genius to apply it to a marketing campaign!

Max de Montaigne on November 1, 2013 at 4:38 PM said...

Very useful. Thank you!

I just used this template to provide an answer to an agency, which is bordering on being a scam, and will use it more. Unfortunately, but it is not a perfect world.

Maybe we should all do something like that to this type of people, that would send a message. Just day dreaming...

Have a great weekend.

Annelise on November 2, 2013 at 1:34 AM said...

Thanks for sharing this great article, it did ring several bells indeed! I wanted to share your article, but then I spotted an ad on your home page that made me hesitate: the ad by Webflakes, a Web site that is inviting translators to work for free... I posted an article about it this week on Linkedin (!). Maybe you could give us your opinion on this "operator". Can you select the ads that display on your site at all? And if yes, how come you let this one on your Web site? I would appreciate to have your feedback on this and you opinion on this Web site. Thank you. Annelise

Olive said...

The comments under Tim Kreidel's article make fascinating reading. Here is an excellent tip posted by a Sam Katz of New York City. "When I was in school decades ago, I had a teacher named Philip Bucci, one of the real masters of 20th century PR. He taught us when you do something gratis, always follow it up with the bill marked “paid,” because without that reminder of what your time and expertise are worth, the recipients will never appreciate what you have given them."

Although it is best not to work for free, if you do do a free translation for some charity/non-professional venture/friend of a friend, I think that it would be very wise to follow this advice.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on November 4, 2013 at 6:58 AM said...

@Andie: Thanks for sharing that very interesting point about professional musicians. There are a lot of parallels between their profession and ours for sure. And the anecdote about the mole is priceless.

@Zoya: Thanks for reading and for commenting! Too funny that folks want a free manicure at the trade show from the beauty salon folks. You have to admire people's nerves to ask for such things. Oh, and we laughed really hard when we read your comment about the jeweler!

@Gabriel: Many thanks, we will check it out for sure!

@Max: You are right; it's not a perfect world indeed, but we have to keep on trying.

@Annelise: Thanks for your insightful comment. We can select the ads we display, and we hestitated with Webflakes, as we don't know anything about them. However, ads are not endorsements, and we simply sell an ad once in a while to cover our costs, as we write this blog for free (ha!) for all our colleagues and friends. We will check out your post, but in general, we do sometimes recommend some free projects for beginners to build their portfolios for reputable non-profits, such as Kiva, Tanslators without Borders, etc. -- just to get some translation experience rather than working for peanuts. Great food for thought, though. But again, the bottom line is: ads are not endorsements by any stretch of the imagination.

@Olive: Love that "trick" with the "paid" stamp -- brilliant! Of course, we do plenty of free (read: non-profit) work, and it's wonderful. You just can't do it more than a certain amount of time, and what's important, we think, is to educate our clients so they know our work has value and we don't just do it for fun or on the side. Thanks for your great comment!

Anonymous said...

These things do happen a lot but all you need to say is that you aren´t going to do any work for free and that´s it.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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