Price and quality are the most important features of a translation. Since “How good should a good translation be?” is the most complex question, let’s begin with the other one instead: how much is a good translation worth? Rates and payment methods vary greatly from translator to translator. Some will ask for thousands of dollars and royalties to translate your books; others will content with the monetary equivalent of breadcrumbs. Now, before I go on, let me say one thing for honesty’s sake: in this article, I won’t tell you how much you should pay for a translation. It would be all too easy to copy the content of my Services page and advocate for why that’s exactly how much you should pay. Since I’m trying to do useful posts here, I won’t do that.
After establishing that, I can give away some secrets.
Here’s the trick: when you are looking at any translator’s rates, you shouldn’t read them as money that will go out of your pocket if you choose to work with that particular person. You should, instead, see the rate per word as the amount of attention, care and love the translator is going to give to your work. In other words, a rate of 1 cent per word means that every word in your book is going to receive 1 cent worth of qualified effort. The primary question then becomes: “How much attention do I want each word of my book to be invested with?”
Of course, your economic resources are still a primary factor. You can’t buy services you can’t afford, and if you believe you’re being overcharged, then by all means negotiate or look for someone else. However, changing your primary question allows you to see the issue from a new point of view. Instead of looking for the cheapest translator, you should decide on a budget and look for freelancers according to that budget. You’ve already decided how much you are willing to invest; now it’s time to get the most out of it. Scout for translators, and ask for test translations and/or references to all of them. Then pick the one who suits your need.
Take a moment to assimilate the first secret. When you’re done, go on and read the next one.
Here it is: money spent on translations has diminishing returns. The difference between Google Translate and a bad translator is larger than the gap between the latter and a mediocre translator, which, in turn, is larger than the difference between a mediocre translator and a good one (going from “obscure mess of random words” to “obviously bad, but readable translation” is a bigger jump than the one from “bad, but readable” to “everything in its place, just doesn’t lit me up”). You don’t need to invest dozens of thousands of dollars in the translation of a book; chances are that a 0.12 $/word translation isn’t twice as good as a 0.06 $/word one. But at the same time, if you have cash to invest, well, use it. As the old saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. Choosing to save money on translations means spending a little less now, and potentially lose a lot later. In essence, it’s betting against yourself.