We interrupt the flow of language-related material to bring you a brief report on Big Changes at Casa Languagehat and a solicitation of suggestions. Without going into pointless detail, my job has gone downhill in the depressing way that corporate jobs do, and I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more. We’re thinking more and more of distancing ourselves from the rat race: selling this house, buying a much cheaper one outside the NYC catchment basin (it’s the ease of commuting to the city that makes these river towns so pricy), and living a less stressful life, if possible working out of our home. So if anyone has ideas about how an overeducated polymath with many years of editorial experience might try earning a living while avoiding the clutches of the Cosmodemonic Corporation, your thoughts are most welcome. Is it possible to make decent money doing editing at home? Researching? Translating? I will, of course, be investigating these questions myself, but what’s the point of having a diverse crowd of good-hearted readers if you can’t draw on their variegated experiences once in a while? Suggestions of a general nature (“have you considered sheep-shearing?”) can go in the comments; specific contacts (“call 555-1234 and ask for Nicolae”) should be sent to languagehat AT yahoo DOT com.


  1. As Arthur Rimbaud suggested, I think you should be a rentier. That’s the best choice.

  2. Freelance editing of a legitimate kind is rather difficult to get. I do some work for a vanity press; it’s not terribly lucrative, and the manuscripts are simply horrible, but it does allow me to work at home and to pay more of my bills than I would otherwise. University presses are more difficult to get freelance work from. Still, I’d advise you to get the AAUP directory and start sending out resumes. I did so about five years ago and got three positive responses out of sixty letters.
    Good luck!

  3. Go to Alaska, British Columbia, or the Yukon. If you can handle more cold, and are interested in the Nunavut, go to the Northwest Territories. Or any Inuit area. Help indigenous people preserve their languages while supporting yourself either as some sort of academic or a teacher. There isn’t too much editing except if you work for the press, such as the Anchorage Daily News or some Canadian newspaper or journal.
    Scholars of indigenous languages have said that by 2050 or sooner, there should be 50 Alaskan Native languages which will cease to exist. Of course this problem isn’t limited to Alaska and Canada, or course. You can pretty much pick your favorite geographic area or point. I’m hoping to settle in an undisclosed area across the ocean once I pay off my mortgage. My family and I have discussed this. We will learn as much of one of the minor languages and work for its survival. I’ll avoid the corporate muck and survive by tutoring and whatever else I can get.

  4. Esteemed Hat,
    I have no practical advice to give (I anticipate facing similar problems before too long myself), but I just wanted to say “amen” to bold moves, to reconsiderations, to reconnections with What’s-of-value.
    Do what you love, the money is unlikely to follow in the quantities you desire, but your desires might undergo a satisfying adjustment…
    And so, amen!

  5. ben wolfson says

    The AAUP lives here. I’m surprised you haven’t Asked Metafilter about this, too.

  6. I’m surprised you haven’t Asked Metafilter about this, too.
    Don’t worry, I plan to, but at the rate questions fall off the page, I’m waiting till tomorrow, when readership will rebound from the weekend lull.

  7. Sorry to hear about the job/money woes. I wish you the best of luck!
    It seems your background makes you really suitable for a university press position. There’re a bunch of OUP-NY editorial/managerial jobs, on inspection:
    Likewise at CUP:
    There’s of course the rat race of academia, the rewards of which are … abstract. But I gather that you’ve been-there-done-that. 🙂 Good luck!

  8. Sorry to hear about this news.
    Have you thought of moving to Europe? Or contacting the European Union? With all the multilingual translation they need done these days I bet your talents would be in great demand.
    Best of luck!

  9. “Is it possible to make decent money doing editing at home? Researching? Translating?”
    I have friends who are successful translating at home. They usually translate for people they used to work for, and with whom they have made formal or informal agreements, essentially to keep working for the company but as a vendor.
    I also have acquaintances who have a hot language combination and a hot specialty (like computer engineering) who are also successful at freelance translation but it took them years to build up a client list and they have to keep advertising and promoting themselves. In other words, 16-hour days, but they love it because they’re independent.

  10. I’ll just join in the queue and hope something positive comes out of this. All the best!

  11. Hook up with some NGO in Europe, get in on the bottom if you have to and work your way up. You won’t get rich but you can live well. Other opportunities will develope. Most are full of eager 22 year old US grad students with minimal language capabilities and short term commitments, and some of these jobns might suit you well, as you might suit them well. Human rights, culture, business, there are lots of them.
    Wish I could give you better insider advice, but I manage to live from music, editing, writing, voice-overs, selling fiddles and bagpipes, and various culture scams. I barely make a living, but the espresso is better in Europe. I’ve never been able to break into the NGO work world eyt, though I have tried. It might be easier to apply from your home country.

  12. Speaking from personal experience, you can make a decent living working as a freelance translator, once you have a few steady and trustworthy (i.e. actually pay you when they’re supposed to) clients.
    Although it’s lovely to be independent of office politics and silliness, and to be able to work in your pjs, as one of your readers mentioned: say goodbye to regular working hours (in the beginning, anyway). For the first years, it’s usually feast or famine. And, depending on who your clients are, you’ll likely still have to deal with a degree of corporate stupidity (“Marcus in the mail room thinks that isn’t a word. Are you sure that’s a word?”).
    But, every once in a while, that fabulous job comes along that makes you marvel at actually getting paid for doing something you love so well.
    Go for it, dude.

  13. The problem with getting into translation is that the market is very diverse, which is also the advantage – if everyone knew how to get work, the jobs would all be snapped up. Workflow can also be a problem. But it sounds like a good idea if you have your own base and move out of town a bit. Good luck and enjoy the change!

  14. More seriously:
    My brief investigation of English teaching abroad made me fear that the Common Market may be a problem for Americans wanting to work in Europe. British and Irish are apparently favored in English teaching, as I understand, and more so in the better jobs.
    In China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea you could get a foothold as an English teacher and then work into other areas such as translating and editing. It would take some hustling and self-promotion and the Chinese or Taiwanese business environment can be sleazy. (The Koreans are well spoken of, by contrast). You wouldn’t absolutely have to be fluent in the local languages if you could translate from English into several other languages.
    And as most people have already found out, the Asian translation standard isn’t terribly high, so one of your lesser languages would only have to be better than whoever else would be getting the job.
    This is only a good idea if you really want to live in Asia. I don’t know what the business climate there is right now either.

  15. The problem with freelancing and contract work, I’ve been told, is that you can’t really enjoy your slack time very much because you’re worrying, but sometimes too many things are happening at once, too.

  16. Come and live in Catalonia. If you sell a house in NYC and buy a farm here, you’ll be able to live the rest of your life on the difference.

  17. I freelanced (copyediting and proofreading, mostly) for a couple of years. Like boo’s friends, my principle clients were my former employers. And it will be feast or famine: you’ll be busy enough to have to turn things down, and then one day, nothing.
    It’s basically piecework: The faster you are, the more money you can make.
    How’s your appetite for business? Accounting? Paperwork? That’s why I eventually gave up the freelance life. I got myself in serious debt and owed the IRS a bundle, because I just couldn’t be bothered to run my business like a business.

  18. HP pretty much nailed it. I found the experience rewarding but ultimately needed to get back to a more structured environment. The keys to a successful freelancing career are serious self-discipline, assertiveness with customers (things you take for granted working for a company, like getting paid, don’t always happen), willingness to work hard, and ability to handle the business aspects of the business (be very, very mindful of the IRS).
    I lasted a couple of years before realizing that wasn’t necessarily the best path for me. But I did learn a lot.
    Hope this helps some…

  19. Thanks, everybody. To mention one basic point: at the moment, I have no interest in moving overseas (or indeed out of the Northeast), so suggestions in that direction will not be acted on. And I do expect a lot of accounting/paperwork annoyance; we’ll just have to see how bad it gets. At the moment I’m mainly concerned with attracting a client base; boo’s “it took them years to build up a client list” is a little scary.

  20. Look into business/legal translation. Not particularly romantic, but it wil pay well. My firm recently paid a large sum of money to somone who could read through, a dump of 5000 emails from a Brazilian subsidiary in order to find and translate the few connected to a revenue recognition fraud. It can be done from home. Russian companies have been defrauding U.S. investors at ever greater numbers, so there is a market.

  21. It is incredibly easy to work from home. At one point I was translating and editing and proofreading from home, and the reason why I scaled back is because working at home was too isolating.
    But it seems that when I turn on the spiggot, the work comes–and none of the places I freelanced for were former employers. I’ve been freelancing either in my home or elsewhere for a decade, and I have no problem getting more work because people appreciate self-reliant people (in terms of insurance, etc).
    I discovered that once people know what you do and know that you’re good, they’ll keep giving you work and refer you. I even did some proofreading for someone in California, who was a friend of a friend, who’d heard I did a good job.
    Don’t despair–there’s lots of work out there.

  22. About translating: it helps if you have a specialty. But places are glad to have multilingual translators.

  23. Why not try teaching foreign languages in a high school? French, Spanish and sometimes German are routinly taught. Some school districts even have salary scales going up to around $80,000 with a master’s or PhD. The discipline may be a problem, but some of the students love languages.

  24. I don’t think LanguageHat likes teaching.

  25. You don’t want to get into sheep shearing. It’s hard (literally) back breaking piece work with the clock always ticking and co-workers who are alcoholics or New Zealanders or both. Out by your thirties with arthritis. Wool classing however, is a fine job.

  26. Well, let’s put it this way: I like teaching one-on-one, or to a small and eager audience; I despise trying to teach a large group of indifferent youngsters. “The discipline may be a problem” tells me to run the other way.

  27. There is no discipline problem in teaching ESL to adult immigrants, another possible field for those of us with linguistics backgrounds. The amount of appreciation on their part is amazing. Of course, many school districts don’t have full-time adult ESL programs offering benefits and top salary to their adult ed teachers, but some do. The opportunity to meet and teach people from Albania to Zaire (yeah, I know it’s the Congo again)enriches the educator as well.

  28. I don’t think that you should let a single bad report, from someone who may well be a New Zealanders himself, cause you to rule out sheep-shearing.
    Samuel Butler, the author of “The Way of All Flesh”, “Erewhon”, etc. and one of the great cranks of all time, made his fortune raising sheep in New Zealand. None of his writings I’ve seen say a word about sheep; there’s a rumor, started by me, that a suppressed manuscript exists which lays out the real nitty-gritty about sheep and the men who care for them.

  29. If you like one-on-one teaching, there’s (in the UK at least, and presumably in the US) a steady stream of parents willing to pay good money for private tuition to supplement their children’s education. Try not to put all your eggs in one basket – maybe a bit of editing alongside a bit of one-on-one teaching, then see what’s the most satisfying and what pays the bills (in that order). Sorry to read about your troubles, but good luck in your endeavours. Eliza.

  30. Doug Sundseth says

    If you are not put off by the subject matter (I’m not, but some are), you might look at freelance editing for the computer game and adventure game industries. I don’t know whether you have any subject-specific background, but I have known several people who have made a reasonable living in that field, and from home. You do have to watch out for the stability of the companies you work for, though.
    On a somewhat related note, when I was last looking for a job, I found out that there is a fairly lucrative free-lance market for page layout for periodicals. At the time I was told that a completely reliable freelancer would not lack for work.
    HTH, and feel free to contact me if you would like more details.

  31. Mediabistro (http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/) lists jobs… HTH and good luck.

  32. Hi LH, maybe I was lucky, but I made enough to live on in my first year of translating, and my income has gone steadily up since. Of course it’s not the same for everyone, but I don’t think freelancing necessarily equals starvation in the first few years. If you’ve got the right personality/work ethics, it is really is a great way to earn a living. Good luck!

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