Most of the literary translators I have talked to really like their work and none of them has been in it for the money – well, at least I do not know anyone who got rich by translating, if this is the case for you, then please let me know how you are doing it 😉
Film subtitling – better paying alternative for creative translators?
When I first moved to London, I wasn’t earning enough money with literary translations to make a living in this expensive city and I was looking for alternatives. After a while I discovered subtitling, because many films were put on DVD and there was a demand for subtitlers at that time. After a while, though, the subtitling agencies had found enough translators and the demand decreased also because all the old films were already on DVD. Now the companies gradually started lowering their rates until they were so low that I quit again and took on different work. However, something interesting happened recently: I was contacted again and was offered a higher rate, due to the fact that Netflix needs a lot of film subtitlers who translate into German and probably into other languages as well these days. If you are looking for work like this and especially if you have experience, you could for example contact IMS.
Even though there is a demand for subtitlers right now, I suspect this is going to change sooner or later, as subtitling is rather popular. You are watching films all day and you even get paid for it, right? It’s not that easy, though, and it does need some skills. Nonetheless, I do understand why it is popular. If you are someone who is just starting out and wants to learn something related to translation, I would rather go for a more general type of course like the MA in translation, interpreting and subtitling at the University of Esssex instead of a course in subtitling alone. I have no doubt that the industry will change again and the more skills you have, the better.
Some female literary and subtitle translators are saying they love what they are doing so much, because it is something creative that allows them to work from home with small children and they have a husband who is the main bread-winner. This is very understandable, but there is a problem with this – if you consider translation only an additional income and don’t rely on it to earn a living, you might be willing to accept low rates and this will affect the standard rates in the industry. And there is another very unpopular, but nonetheless relevant issue: The divorce rate is nowadays so high in most countries that you might not have a husband forever…
People can often earn more money if they are not afraid of tough negotiating. This does not come easily to most women who were taught to be nice girls and don’t demand too much. I admit that I have problems with fighting for my rights all the time as well and therefore I prefer a different long-term solution.
My own alternative: self-publishing
As mentioned above, you can read more about my own choice and the translation process in self-publishing on Joanna Penn’s blog.