Why I no longer accept editing/proofreading jobs

I edit and proofread my own work but I don’t edit or proofread anything I didn’t write or translate myself. Lots of translators do, but after being burned a few times I’ve decided it’s just not for me. And I’ll tell you why, but first an explanation of terms is in order.

Editing: Arranging, revising, and preparing a written, audio, or video material for final production, usually by a party (called an editor) other than the creator of the material. The objectives of editing include (1) detection and removal of factual, grammatical, and typographical errors, (2) clarification of obscure passages, (3) elimination of parts not suitable for the targeted audience, and (4) proper sequencing to achieve a smooth, unbroken flow of narrative. (Source: Business Dictionary)

Note: An essential part of the translation process. A second pair of eyes can be invaluable, especially for works intended for publication.

Proofreading: Comparing the latest stage of text with the preceding stage, marking discrepancies in text, and, when appropriate, checking for problems in page makeup, layout, color separation, or type. (Source: Editorial Freelancers Association)

Note: Also extremely important. You skip or skimp on this final step at your own peril.

However, when translation agencies ask for “editing,” what they usually want is “revision and correction,” i.e. editing + proofreading + translation checking, which means checking the source text against the target text to make sure the text has been fully and accurately translated. Three very important jobs in one that any agency worth its salt must ensure get done. Just… not by me. For the past few years I have routinely turned down all “editing” jobs for five main reasons.

Reason one – I prefer translation: Exactly what it says on the tin. As important as these tasks may be, they’re no substitute for my true passion, translating texts from Japanese to English. I love the puzzle-solving and mental gymnastics involved and the sense of creating something instead of polishing what already exists. There are only so many hours in a working day. I’d rather spend that time on what I truly enjoy.

Reason two – It doesn’t pay very well: Somehow or the other, many translation agencies have came to believe that the standard rate for editing jobs is a third of a translator’s rate for normal translation. Three jobs in one for 1/3rd the pay? How could I possibly resist? Very easily, that’s how.

Always insist on an hourly fee for “editing” jobs and peg it high enough that you would make the same if you were translating. In my case that works out to around $65 an hour. I haven’t found an agency willing to pay that much yet, but if you’re out there, give me a call.

Reason three – It encourages agencies to use cheaper, less skilled translators: Or even Google Translate. Of course this only applies to some less scrupulous agencies, but they exist. See this Proz thread, or this one for example. It makes bizarre economic sense to hire a less experienced translator to produce a first draft at $0.03 a word (or Google Translate at $0.00) then get a better translator to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear for a third of their normal rate. Profit!

Or at least that’s the impression I got from the texts that crossed my desk. My thought process went, “I can’t believe someone got paid their full rate to translate this” -> “I can’t believe I’m getting only a third of my rate to clean it up” -> No Más (I quit).

Reason four – It affects me negatively: “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) And Bad English corrupts Good English just as surely. Stare at a bad translation long enough and that will be the first thing that comes to mind next time you see that word in the source text. Even though you know it’s wrong it’s still going to pop up. There’s probably a scientific term for that phenomenon but I don’t know what it is. What I do know is I don’t need that excess mental baggage.

Reason five – You get saddled with all the responsibility: You’re considered an expert in the language and you’re usually the last pair of eyes to see the translation and you were hired to fix it in the first place. If anything goes wrong or the end client is unhappy for any reason, the blame lands squarely on your shapely shoulders. It doesn’t matter how poor the source text was or how badly the original translator messed up, once you agree to fix it, you’re responsible for the results. Which is as it should be, but it’s also all the more reason to stay away. 君子危うきに近寄らず(A wise man keeps away from danger), as they say in Japan.

There you have my reasons for turning down proofreading, editing and revision jobs. I’m sure someone else could come up with five good reasons to always accept such jobs but I’ll leave it to the “someones” of the world and stick with what works for me. Good luck out there!