The Ideal Client

In the past three years I have been fortunate enough to have worked with that same number of ideal clients on major projects.
What do I mean by ‘ideal’?

     · The jobs were within my main area of expertise (literary and journalistic translation).

     · The clients were people who understood the fundamental importance of a proper translation and had a working knowledge of the target language.

     · They understood that translations were not the product of ‘spontaneous generation’, but of hard, highly skilled and detailed work that could end up taking a period of time equivalent to a major proportion of that necessary to write the original work.

     · They were clear and understanding of the fact that, even if I were to dedicate a large portion of my work schedule to their project, a highly recommended professional translator could not be expected to devote himself absolutely full-time to a single, on-going, medium-term project–that he would obviously have other more permanent regular weekly and monthly commitments to cope with as well.

     · They were perfectionists who were much more interested in final results than in unrealistic deadlines. For example, there were no proposals like: “I’m going to the beach on vacation next week for two weeks and want to have this done before that so that I can relax and enjoy myself.” But they were professionals themselves and were as strict about logical deadline agreements, time dedication and billing and payment schedules as I was.

     · They knew enough about translated works to know that the resulting document had to be a clear interpretation of the spirit and content of the original work without being a literal translation and, therefore, they didn’t question every change of wording, sentence structure, expression, etc., that I made.

     · They were available–or made someone else available–for discussion of the work as it was being processed and showed a willingness to approve any modification capable of improving the work as a whole or comprehension of it.

     · They were not under the impression (dare I say “delusion”?) that translation was a monastic craft, a religious vocation, a selfless calling that was carried out at the service of the dissemination of the author’s thoughts and, thus, for the charitable advancement of Mankind, meaning that it needn’t be paid for or, at least, that if the translator were to charge for it, the fee should be humble and symbolic in nature. (In other words, these were people who could read an estimate without going into convulsions, frothing at the mouth or fainting dead away).

     · They understood the importance of recognizing the translator’s effort, not merely in the form of the author’s personal appreciation and handshake beyond remuneration, but also as manifested in the inclusion of the translator’s by-line on the title page (and, in one case, on the cover) of the work itself, and in voluntary public acknowledgment of the translator’s contribution (as noted in the introduction to the target-language version of the work or in recommendations placed in professional networks).

     · The relationship was one of utmost mutual respect and professional courtesy.

That’s what I mean by ideal.

I’ve been reflecting on this in recent weeks and reminding myself that it is something to be grateful for and not to take for granted, since, even though I’ve been able to become more selective as my translating career has advanced over the course of more than three decades, there have clearly been times in which I have ended up working with the kind of clients whom one hopes to be done with forever.

Nor can I forget that the vast majority of translators–especially young translators, no matter how skilled they might be–often end up working with tyrannical corporate supervisors, limited-liability outsourcing agencies and totally unscrupulous translation wholesalers, who render non-existent most of the above-listed attributes of a proper client/translator relationship.

On further thought, I have also come to the conclusion that while gratitude is certainly in order–at both ends of the client-translator relationship–there is something clearly wrong with our profession when this kind of working environment is the exception to the rule. In fact, I would go as far as to say that my point-by-point description of the relationship that I’ve enjoyed with these three outstanding clients could well serve as a kind of manifesto to so many of the self-serving, do-nothing organizations worldwide that claim to be protectors of translators’ professional rights and position, but which have stood by and watched with apparent apathy as the standards of international translating have plummeted in terms of quality, pay, working conditions and professionalism, and as wholesale outsourcing agencies have sought to turn this complex communications craft into a generic, gang-sourced commodity.

Dan Newland
Originally posted in Dan’s blog
Ilustrated by Juan Tavela