THE OTHER DAY I was at the baker’s and, while I was waiting for the seller to gather a couple of croissants for me, my eyes bumped into this modest-looking, muted pastel-colored picture that was hanging on the wall right in front of me. The picture boasted a yellowish background and a memorable phrase that read: Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it—autograph your work with quality.
I felt my lips curl into a knowing smile.
“You have everything you need?”
In fact, I had just got more than that. I’d only been to the bakery for a couple of late-breakfast supplies and found, as a last-minute bonus, the right inspirational catch-phrase that would just do for my upcoming blog article. Ta-da!
Autograph every job you choose to undertake with quality—easier said than done, right? Yet, as language editors, that is precisely what our job should always consist of: the delivery of faultless quality that meets our client’s expectations, pays tribute to our colleagues’ work, and honours our own reputation as professionals who actually care about meeting the promises we make. Staying true to these expectations is vital when you work as a freelance language editor, especially if you intend to receive a steady work flow from agency clients and keep attracting direct prospects through word-of-mouth referrals.
As we discussed in earlier posts, the person who edits a translation or even original copy must turn quality into their first priority. While this may read like an obvious statement, sometimes quality comes to bear the consequences of impossible time constraints or, even, lack of specific knowledge in the subject matter on the editor's part. But can editors survive in the translation industry if they depict a deficient portrait of themselves by submitting poor quality to their clients? And if so, how long are they likely to last, alive and kicking?
If we take the above quoted phrase at face value, I am sure we would generally agree that quality, for editors, is—must be—a must, given that they take part in what is widely known as the QA process which every translation should, hopefully, undergo prior to the final delivery to a client.
So, how can we ensure we actually put as much into the job as it takes? Do we always need to have what it actually takes? And if not, should we still take the job and juggle it as well as we can?
Every once in a while, we, humans, tend to (involuntarily) fail at our goals, at our exams, at other people's expectations and even at out jobs. We, editors, being human by definition, will, inevitably, run the risk of failure every time we take on the responsibility of doing our job. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies we can pursue which are likely to help us cope with the mixed blessing that a job request might mean in terms of the “To edit or not to edit this text?” dilemma.
How can we make sure we truly edit a text as well as we can, despite time constraints and other minor disadvantages or contingencies? Well, here I remind myself and, hopefully, my readers, of some useful tactics I have come to develop in order to try and strike a balance between what I feel I should and shouldn’t do as a professional editor. We are going to use these as the baseline for the Every Cloud Must Have A Silver Lining series, which consists of a series of upcoming blog posts on a couple of unpromising client feedback scenarios and how I came to solve each case by keeping both feet on the ground and looking on the bright side of the situation. These articles will aim to remind myself and my colleagues that yes, we are plausibly human, just as everyone else but, unlike everyone else, we are willing to make our best attempt to solve a situation for a client when things don’t come about as expected, whether that be our mistake or theirs.
Whenever I lose track of why I accepted this job or other, or feel rather daunted by a job request which sounds tempting from the point of view of profit, but rather unwelcome from the point of view of cost-effectiveness, I try by all means to apply these three principles before I say either “Yes” or “No” and start working on it:
- Buy less of the “No pain, no gain” philosophy
- Stay focused, time to get the job done
- Ensure you deliver your best possible quality
1. Buy less of the “No pain, no gain” philosophy—we are no know-alls, after all!
It is a truth (almost) universally acknowledged that, in the beginning of our careers as editors and translators, we must all be in want of a steady work flow and a good income. But, as we grow both realistic and more confident, there will come this moment of epiphany when we realise we actually can’t do five things at a time (or take two 2,500-assignments for the same deadline). There comes a point in our lives as editors and translators when we can tell in advance whether we can do or not do a job, and feel almost 100% sure we made the right choice. Every client will expect fast and easy, but also, every client will expect good quality from you, in exchange of which you are going to ensure you are rewarded accordingly. The “No pain, no gain” philosophy is a widespread motto that may be helpful to some for a start, but once you define your areas of expertise, either purposefully or through daily practice, those are likely to be the fields you truly feel comfortable working in. The direct result from learning to tell the difference between what we could do but wouldn't like to do, and what we could and definitely do well plus enjoy is that we must start saying no to certain jobs in order to make the most of our time, effort and—let’s face it—experience. When you say no the things you honestly don’t feel like doing, or don’t feel capable of doing because that’s simply not your area, you feel better at ease with the kind of work you actually do. As a result, you are naturally less prone to make mistakes because you know the field, feel positive about what you are doing and can fully trust your skills on the subject. Hence, you stand a better chance of providing your client with better quality. Finally, in the long run, knowing what you’re good at and enjoy doing most will be the key to confidently marketing yourself as a specialised linguist in a couple of specific areas of your taste and knowledge. That’s when you can give the client your full assurance that yes, they can trust you and yes, you will get the job done as it should, or even better!
2. Stay focused, time to get the job done. Repeat after me: Time to get the job done.
Once you find your way out of the jobs in which you feel you are unlikely to be the best possible editor available, you need to learn to appreciate the opportunity you've decided to take to do exactly what you enjoy and feel good at doing, and clear away those tasks which somebody else could do better. Sometimes, we are better at things we don’t enjoy that much, but which we don't mind doing anyway, so we can get the job done without procrastinating and without taking many pains to meet our deadline or the quality that is expected from us. Some people will claim they can't do certain things—like their jobs!—unless they absolutely enjoy at least the vast majority of it, which must be why so many people keep working to earn their living: they must work, we all have to, but if we can do something to enjoy it, the better.
Of course, when we say yes to a project, we always run the risk of having to deal with one contingency or another, either be that on the part of the client or on ours. But then, that’s where the adrenaline lies, isn’t it? Some adrenaline is good to keep your sense of adventure well fed, and yes, every cloud will probably have a silver lining. As we'll often say in Spanish, “No hay mal que por bien no venga”.
Now, when we are entrusted with the an editing task, we are likely to encounter a great deal of issues (not just terms) to do some thorough research on, even when we work in a field (we assume) we know very, very well. So, I think one of the tips to get the job done is, like in every trade and profession in this life, make sure you STAY FOCUSED. How? Well, I believe that very much depends on a series of factors, one of which is our own character traits, another the kind of job we're doing, and, also, the circumstances in which we are doing it, that is, whether you’re a freelancer or in-house linguist, whether you share your (home) office with other people, your working hours, etc.
One of the things I’ve been giving much though to these days is this: Can editors do a good job when they listen to music during their working hours? Can editors provide their best possible quality with their TV on crooning in the background?
I assume many people would say that depends on what helps you relax, on what helps you stay tuned while enjoying the atmosphere a bit for as long as the job lasts. In my case, I often find music to be one of the worst distractors. First, because I play musical instruments and can never resist the temptation of doing something with my hands or my feet or, erm, my voice, if I’m listening to music, and second, because it is a scientifically proved fact that the more stimulated our brain is, the more energy it has to invest in responding to every stimulus. This can have a positive effect in the long run, and is very likely to help you boost your split attention if you train it as a skill to acquire in the long term (interpreters will know first-hand what I mean), but in the case of editors, I have often found that a regular 1-hour task might take me up to 2 hours if I do it while listening to music and, also, will increase the probability span for unseen errors. So, if you are a freelancer who’s not sharing their office with anyone else but still can't help listening to music while you work, try to a) choose either instrumental music (like peaceful movie soundtracks, classical music, karaoke tracks, etc.) or songs in a language that differs from the ones you happen to be working with; and b) keep the volume from moderate to low, so that it consumes as little energy as possible from your attention span. Needless to say, these are the tips that work best for me, but of course, it takes all sorts... Now, I imagine it must be a little harder when it comes to in-house linguists. Perhaps their work environment allows for a bit of music, or perhaps not. If music is totally unacceptable or most likely to bother your colleague, you can always request your boss’ permission to wear your own headphones while working on a light deadline, and always keep sound at a low volume in your computer, so that you don't totally switch off from what’s going on in the workplace.
3. Ensure you deliver your best possible quality—better be safe than sorry!
Generally speaking, editors seem to be more likely to lay their hands on a wider range of fields and topics than translators normally do, as there are usually more linguists willing and held skilled to translate than take up editing jobs. This is because, in a way, editing takes quality to the next level, so much so that quality must be, like I said before, our number one priority. Also, while some translators are likely to handle 2,500 to 5,000 words per day, well-trained professional editors may be willing to edit up to 7,000 words per day, though I wouldn’t recommend editing that amount of works on a regular daily basis non-stop. While editing can be a very interesting job from the point of view of diversity and the variety of themes editors will often deal with in a day, it is also as stressful as—and, sometimes, more demanding than—translating a text for whose quality will depend half on the translator himself, and half on the editor of the language team. Because clients are, more often than not, in a hurry, both editors and translators are expected to work on generally tight or, at least, not always flexible deadlines. In fact, editors are sometimes expected to work faster. As they always come second in the TEP operating line, everybody will feel inclined to assume that the hardest part has already been dealt with by somebody else, i. e., the translator. In my experience, editing is likely to take almost as many—and sometimes more—working hours than a regular to slightly complex translation. Even when the quality submitted by the translator is very good, there's always room for correction, and if there isn’t, there is always a wide range of other issues to keep us busy with research, in order to ensure we check again every aspect of the translation, such as: target market/audience, terminology, general stylistic guidelines, client preferences, etc.
In any case, we can always stay out of trouble by caring to provide our best quality and, therefore, making that portrait of ourselves help our clients see us the way we actually want them to see us—like the true professional editors we are. For that matter, I always try to review my own edited version of a text before I send it to my clients. Usually, that means taking into account all the deadlines I have in a day or two, plus the rest of my weekly routine, so as to plan for this second editing phase to come neither too soon after my first review of the text, nor too late in connection with my deadline. If the client is new, I struggle to make sure I do go through the text twice before I deliver it—better cause a positive first impression and get off to a good start, than go around picking up the pieces of your own poorly done job.
However, many editors will claim there are a number of issues that may keep them from doing this at times. Whenever I feel I won't make it for the second review, I work even harder on my concentration skills. I know I can concentrate hard on my job for a limited amount of time, as it is only natural that it should be so for all human beings in general. So, when I get down to a job I know I will only be reviewing once, I actually do absolutely nothing more than that, and keep up with it for as long as I know I can be productive and fully aware of the changes I make. This means I must consider my choices very well before inserting an edit, so that I only exceptionally come back to it after I finish editing. Exceptions may occur that may cause me to retrace my steps even when I thought I had made every change possible, such as when the client asks for a sample of the edited translation and they come back with feedback requesting a couple of preferential changes, or if I or the translator realise a term would be better translated as X instead of Y, then the client approves and, as a result, that change is my responsibility to make.
Finally, I would rather say every editor should aim at autographing their work with their best possible quality, and not just “quality”. Doing our best is the key value that will help us keep the boat afloat if the client comes back with issues, and will also provide for the ideal starting point before discussing every sort of feedback with the client. In short, if we are fully aware of the work we've done and confident that we actually did as much as good as we could, we are in a much better position to stand up for our job and quote the word "quality" as many times as we choose to within our reply to our client's concerns. Ultimately, an editor's goal is to demonstrate we have cared to provide what we firmly believe in: quality.◘ ◘ ◘
Recommended Translation Blogs and Articles:
◘ How to succeed in the industry: An interview with Marta Stelmaszak
◘ Life as a translator, by Scheherezade Surià
◘ Looking-glass Translations, Marie Jackson's industry blog
◘ Thoughts On Translation, Corinne McKay's industry blog
◘ Marketing Tips for Translators, Tess Whitty's industry blog
◘ Algo más que traducir, Pablo Muñoz Sánchez