Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Change of Scenery

One common tip for freelancers, translators included, is to get involved in your local community. Nothing beats meeting people in person, putting your name and face out there, whether through business organizations, volunteering, social committees, whatever floats your boat. 

Moving, then, is a blessing and a curse. You have to start again from scratch, but there are so many new opportunities. And as it happens, moving out of a huge city to a more modest one actually works out in your favor. Highly.

In New York City, I got lost in the crowd. Even within the professional translator's association, I was just another face. And so was everyone else. People moved away, got busy, and fell off the face of the earth so often that no real community was ever built. There are too many groups, too many organizations, with thousands of people flowing freely between them.

But now, I have flowed definitively up to Rochester. Out of the big bad metropolis to a smaller city, full of small-town feel and village charm. There are lots of things for a translator to do, but each organization is the only game in town. The Rochester Young Professionals. The New England Translators Association. A strange being called Plüb that has spawned a matching Book Clüb. A university with an MA program in Literary Translation.

And because of these singular organizations, I've practically doubled the number of people and agencies that I work for. Already. I live out in the countryside, for goodness' sakes, and I've met more people -- more of the right people -- in three months here than I did in three years in NYC. This has been a most productive change of scenery.

Networking Works

It also nets you profit. (Sorry. Couldn't resist. Anyway. Back to serious business.)

The Internet is a wonderful tool for freelancers. You can find and court new clients, work jobs, get paid, and talk about everything, all without leaving your desk.

But in the era of email, Facebook, Skype conferences, webinars, Twitter, scans, texting, all the connections you could possibly ask is missing. One connection, the face-to-face human connection. It gets lost in the ease of doing business. And it's a shame, really.

I took a trip to NYC last week to reconnect with old and make new contacts, but the most important part of the trip was the the five different meetings I had with colleagues I've already been working with for months, or even years, solely through email. Maybe the occasional phone call, if we're lucky. And it's so hard to read emotion and personality via email.

For all the work I've done with these people -- a project manager, a publicist, even my editor -- I didn't really know anything about them. Not how they smile, not even how they speak. And it's hard to feel secure in a business relationship without that personal connection. It's hard to trust someone's judgement with your creations if you can't look them in the eye when asking questions. 

After meeting in person, that trust builds up the other way, too. Five wonderful meetings later, I got numerous offers of "how can I help you as we move forward?" or "here's a good editor, should I pass your name along?" or "you are on our list for this type of job, right? no? I'm putting you on." So much future potential from the people I was already working with, just because we finally got to look one another in the eye and have a lovely conversation over a cup of tea or a glass of lemonade. (It was hot last week.)

So yes. Do it. Try to meet everyone you work with in person, at least once. Set up a meeting if you pass through their city. Go out of your way to end up in their city, if you must. It'll be worth it. 

Better Late Than Never!

So, remember this post? All about how I was going to send out holiday cards to colleagues and clients? Okay. So. Didn't happen last year.


I have officially finished writing and posting every holiday card that I wanted to send this year. I DID IT.

One year late.

The lesson here: persistence is key. Especially when it's going to make other people happy, and bring a little joy to their humdrum lives. (Thank you, Lina Lamont.)

From out of the blue

Sometimes, people call you from out of the blue.  Completely.    There's absolutely no connection to an existing client, or personal friend, or cousin's ex-husband's business partner's mother's sister-in-law's lawyer*, or anyone else.  

I just finalized a small job for a woman who I cannot for the life of me figure out how she knows I exist. But as I thought about it, there are actually many ways she could have found me.  Maybe she was directed to my website by someone.  Maybe she looked up the ATA database, or the NYCT database, and just started down the list.  Maybe she saw an article I wrote for one of the ATA division newsletters.  She could have even Googled "French translator Brooklyn", although I'm not entirely sure where I pop up on that list.  Maybe someone threw one of my business cards away and the trash can fell over and my card happened to catch her eye.  Who knows, really?

The point is, those are only a few ways that she could have found me.  All of them are valid, and all of them are useful (except for maybe that last one with the garbage).  I personally don't use every service available to me (I've almost given up on Twitter, I only spend limited time on LinkedIn, etc.), but apparently, all those avenues of promotion pay off.  It's a nice ego boost to know you're doing something right.


*I will bake you cookies if you figure out who this person is in your life.

Putting it together

And now, a message from the man who I would choose as my favorite Broadway composer if you put a gun to my head:

The last few days and weeks have been accidentally dedicated to making connections and crafting some foundations to build upon as I work towards what I really want to do.  My agenda said benign things like "lunch seminar with CL" or "DN after work" or "NYCT Holiday Brunch".  Benign scribbles become major opportunities, though:

Lunch seminar with CL = Meet the person who does exactly what you want to do; talk as best you can without stumbling over words too many times; she lives six blocks from you? great. get lunch sometime; get contacts; try not to drool

DN after work = Talk for an hour about nothing and everything with colleague of a colleague, then have her ask "What can I do to help you?"...try not to admit that just hearing her talk about the industry was enough, but now she'll reread your cover letter/marketing pitch

NYCT Holiday Brunch = Network, network, network; volunteer for things you didn't know existed or were available; now I'm probably the assistant editor of the association's newsletter? wait, how did that happen? That'

Putting it all together will take time, marinating, and a dash of luck.  Possibly a whole cup.  Maybe more.  I just have to make the right preparations to be ready for when that perfect opportunity falls into my lap.  There seems to be little other way to do it.

Very few people can make their living doing literary translation.  Even fewer who are not in academia.  But they do exist.  Would that I should be one someday.

Operation Holiday Business. Gameplan: Questionable

So many different bloggers, from the T&I industry or elsewhere, talk about client loyalty around the holidays:

It's easy: you send nice cards to your clients, thanking them for working with you and wishing them well for the new year.  At the same time, you're reminding them you exist and putting a smile on their face that links back to you.  If you do it right.  You can even send thoughtful little gifts to your favorites.  It's a nice thing to do, and it's on the fun end of marketing.

But what do you do when the holidays come around and there are agencies who you want to work for, but aren't yet?  When there are clients you've presented yourself to, but nothing's happened?  Is it a good idea, or even appropriate, to send a card to them?

I think it might be, so long as you've had two-way contact with an actual person there.  If you just submitted your resume to a company and didn't hear diddlysquat from them, who are you going to send the card to?  "Dear Hiring Manager"?  What would you do if you got a holiday card from someone you didn't recognize?

But if you have communicated directly with someone at the company and they haven't completely written you off, sure!  Send a card.  It can put you back on their radar, remind them that you exist, and prime them to think of your name when their next project in your language pair pops up.

"Dear so-and-so: Best wishes to you and your loved ones this holiday season.  I look forward to developing our working relationship together in the coming year. "

Why not?  It seems like a good idea...right?

Now, to find cards at the beginning of December.