Thanks to social media platforms, self-publishing tools and, of course, traditional publishing, freelance translators have a wealth and wide range of resources to help them navigate the practical aspects of the brave, new world of translation. The Book of Standing Out: Travels through the Inner Life of Freelance Translation by Andrew Morris ably straddles professional reality both online and off. Neither a handbook, a reference nor an academic treatise, Morris’ first book pairs anecdotes with ample humor to address the many challenges translators face.
Standing Out offers a “best of” compilation of online posts, the majority published on Morris’ eponymous Facebook community page, others shared on the ITI Pillar Box and Alexandria Project blogs. Morris, a seasoned translator but relative newcomer to social media, proves to be a natural online communicator. He adopts an informal, conversational tone and style that quickly engages the reader. In fact, his text often has the feel of spoken word, which is not surprising since it appears he is a fan of Dragon voice recognition software. Comments from fans and colleagues, some of which are quite long and developed, amplify the author’s conversational voice.
Morris starts the book with a strong argument for the importance of a positive attitude. For freelance translators, he writes, “[c]ompetence is the bare minimum and it accounts for about 25% of what you can achieve.” Fully 75% depends on attitude, he says, “[a]nd it starts inside your head and your heart. That’s where you need to look.”
This important theme recurs regularly throughout the book, not in a prescriptive way, but naturally. Optimism, a positive attitude and deep-rooted confidence inform every page. Even the occasional war story — intense moments of insecurity, panic and despair that will be familiar to any freelance translator — is served up with a generous dollop of self-deprecation.
Other topics include the translator’s love/hate relationship with technology, striking the right balance between personal life and professional demands, getting the rate you deserve, learning to say no, how to handle criticism and how to dish it out.
Morris uses anecdotes, fictional what-if scenarios and richly crafted fables to get his points across. Comments from colleagues, far from distracting, add texture and richness to the storytelling.
Standing Out will disappoint readers searching for quick tips and tricks, a dry step-by-step how-to manual or a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. Morris’ breezy prose might also shock translators for whom grammar trumps style. Readers unfamiliar with online patter might have a hard time with the tone. Also, organization freaks might crave a more stringent ordering of key ideas and wonder at the bits and bobs, aptly entitled “Loose Ends,” tacked on at the end.
For freelance translators enduring a crazy-making slump, however, the book will serve as a welcome reminder that a) they are not alone, b) this too shall pass and c) there are ways to get over crazy-making slumps. Freelance translators who have grown weary of chronic naysayers, nags and dire predictions about “the industry” will also appreciate Standing Out. And probably join the ranks of those who rely on Morris’ Facebook page when they need solid support and a blast of upbeat advice, both of which go a long way toward helping freelance translators thrive professionally.
In addition to honing his online persona, Andrew Morris works as a professional translator and copywriter from his home in Provence. A collaboration with Nicole Adams in the form of the book The Bright Side of Freelance Translation, 2014, introduced him to the world of self-publishing. I strongly suspect that Standing Out, his first foray as a solo author, will not be his last.