Will work for food for thought Will you?

Greater than 2 minutes

Working for free is a touchy topic, isn’t it? Recently there was an illustrative discussion in this regard in one of translation-related Facebook groups.

An indie author wrote about a website where writers team up with translators to co-publish books in other languages and share revenues that will hopefully come in future. Alas, as it often happens, the conversation soon heated up and turned to ad hominem arguments. Leaving those aside, I wanted to contest one comment ad rem. It said that the only reason a translator would work for free is that “they don’t have a regular income on paid orders, so they go for every opportunity offered.”

I disagree for two reasons.

The first one is mystical. To me, translation is not just a profession, it’s also a calling. If a text calls me — if I feel an urge to not just read it, but take it in, soak it up, and give it back to the world — I will more often than not feed this urge, whether I’m paid for it or not. 

The second one is pragmatical. “Regular income on paid orders” doesn’t come from a translator’s working 24 hours a day. My “comfortable maximum,” for instance, is four hours (of “pure” work) a day — and that’s how I plan my “paid” work. At the same time, it is not impossible for me to spend an additional half an hour on an unpaid translation that I’m really passionate about. These 30 minutes are not a substitute for any paid work — I will still be getting my “regular income on paid orders,” as if there were no unpaid translation at all.

So I don’t see volunteering one’s services as an “abuse to the profession,” as the comment suggested. On the contrary, I consider it to be a confirmation of the higher, non-monetary spirit of our vocation.

To be clear, and talking specifically about “revenue-shared” work, I would never do it for the money or some expected “return on investment.” It’s pure gambling, and one with a negative expected value.

But, on the other hand, if it makes you tick, if it feeds your hunger for absorbing, re-creating and sharing knowledge — why not?

The real question is, are you hungry?


Want more food for thought? Find some on Ab HoC!

Vova Zakharov

About Vladimir Zakharov

Hey, I’m back from my slumber! Now giving my best shot at running Gyglio ⚜️ Grows you global. I know a bit about running a translation business and will try sharing some of it here.

7 thoughts on “Will work for food for thought Will you?

  1. That’s so true. Why treat translations as any other product in a megamarket store that you are simply eager to sell away? Do these people do it for the money? Then this profession to them is as good as any and it’s not them who should define who a ‘professional’ is. Sometimes we decide to translate a text for free because we feel like it, or because we understand that it could have a different return for us – and it’s not money, for once, bur rather emotions, growth, experience, knowledge, understanding… I could go on like this for hours and would not get paid for the time spent, but, who cares? Not everything is about money 😉

  2. Eleonora’s right, not everything is about money.
    And anyway, if you don’t have free time to translate just because the text is exciting or you want to help others (via TWB, for example), doesn’t mean that everyone’s in the same situation.

  3. “To me, translation is not just a profession, it’s also a calling. If a text calls me — if I feel an urge to not just read it, but take it in, soak it up, and give it back to the world — I will more often than not feed this urge, whether I’m paid for it or not. ” – well said, Vova!

    As with any art form money shouldn’t be the only motivator to create art. Sure it’s nice to get paid for your work, but sometimes we, as creatives, simply have that calling and we will translate just because we want to translate. Not everything should be about the money as others have already pointed out.

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