Sunday, February 20, 2005

Not weird

Last night The Man asked me how much I wanted to charge for the proofreading job, which I was at that very moment pretending to work hard on although actually I was using it to write a poem.

"I don't know," I said. I shrugged.

"Well, I have the price list here for X company," he said. (This is a large company here that does that sort of thing.) "Their quote for proofreading is ¥xxxx per 250-word page. How many words is it?"

"Er..." I got my computer to do a word count. "6210."

"OK... that's about 25 pages, which means... ¥xxx,xxx," he said.

I boggled. (I would be writing the actual numbers here except that I can't remember them. It was A LOT.)

"What a rip-off!" I said. "If I was working on this as hard as I pretend to be I'd have been able to do this in two or three days!" I thought for a moment. "That is, if I'd understood it in the first place and didn't need to ask him so many questions."

"Yes, but you do twice as good a job as they do," he said. "You check the logic and the academic language and all that, too. They don't. They just check the grammar and vocabulary. Plus they charge extra for a 'native check' which is what it should be in the first place."

This is true. The 'professional' companies that do this sort of work are often fairly useless. I've done work that they've ALREADY done, and found huge problems. In fact we did a job directly for one of these companies once, but they never asked us again because we found so much wrong with the paper they'd asked us to translate (not just proofread) that the writer got mad and they lost a customer. He objected to us removing 50% of his writing because it was repetitive. He insisted that he had a 40 page paper. We told him no, he had a 20 page paper, and that would be only after he'd fixed the holes in his logic. You could not write like that for an international academic journal. It would never be accepted. He needed to do THIS and THIS and THIS, and then bring it back to us and we'd polish it up to make it publishable.

He didn't, and it wasn't published even though by this stage the English was perfect (but the logic was still crap and the same things were repeated again and again). A year later the factory he'd 'studied', and had written such a glowing and optimistic 'research paper' about (all expenses paid by the company, heh) collapsed spectacularly all over the international business pages. (It was a Japanese company and the factory was in the U.S.) We laughed, but of course he wasn't around to hear us laughing and we weren't getting any more work from that place either so who shot themselves in the foot that time, eh? Sometimes insisting on doing a good job isn't such a good thing.

Anyway, back to the point. Which was... ? Oh, yes, I remember.

The Man asked me what the least amount was that I'd be happy with for this job. I thought about it. "Oh, about ¥50,000, I suppose," I said. "But really, he could pay less and I wouldn't mind. He's your friend."

"That's not nearly enough," said The Man. "Think how much time you've spent on it!"

I thought guiltily about the poem.

"Well, YOU arrange it then," I said. "Yeah, that's it. I've decided. You're in charge of the money side of things. Don't bother me about it. I don't want to know."

The Man stared at me. "But... don't be silly! If you know you'll be paid well for this doesn't it give you that extra push to do a good job? It's only natural, after all. And he said he'll pay whatever we ask. Won't it give you incentive to do it better if the payment is good?"

I was about to say yes, because The Man is always right, but stopped. Was it true? I knew when I took on this job that I would be paid for it. I know the guy I'm doing it for is very rich. If he wasn't paying much, would I still do my best?

I thought about it.

"No, for this kind of work it doesn't make any difference," I told The Man. "I agreed to do the job. If I wasn't going to do my best then I would have said no in the first place. I mean, really, how can I decide how much is too much work for the money I'm getting? I'm going to correct this problem but not that one? I don't think so!"

The Man told me that this made me weird and different from most people. I told him that I didn't think so and that he was having a logic hiccough.

Today I talked to a friend about this, and asked her what she thought. She agreed with me. This means, of course, that I am right.

So now that I've proved that I'm not weird I will get back to the paper. I only need to rewrite the ending and I'll be finished, nearly. There are just a few more questions, a couple of paragraphs the guy needs to rewrite in order to make the logic work, and a couple of suggestions I have that might make it just that bit better. Then I'll do a final check and make sure the references are all listed properly. I hate checking references. Hate, hate, hate it. I'm not looking forward to that bit.

But if the paper is published (which I think it will be), I'll be just as proud of it as he will be, and there's nothing weird about that.


Anonymous said...

People often sell themselves short with freelance work. Charge what you really feel that your time and efforts were worth. Chances are, they'd pay a lesser person more than you'd first ask for, so go for it! :^)

Faerunner said...

I don't feel as though I've ever "sold myself short" by doing freelance work for little or even no pay. I believe that if it's my time and I can enjoy the work I'm doing, I don't care about payment.

Making someone else smile and knowing that you earned gratitude for a job well done are rewards enough for me. I applaud you, Badaunt. You're not weird at all. :)

Faerunner said...

*correction to sentence: "I believe that it -is- my time and if I can enjoy the work I'm doing I don't care about payment."

..makes a little more sense (at least to me) I should proofread better. :P

Badaunt said...

Setting fees for freelance work is always hard, and that's why the price list we have from the company is so useful! (It's a 'secret' list I obtained from an old student.) I explain that this is what the company would charge, but then give them discount. Their fees are ridiculously high.

But when I don't particularly need the money, and I'm doing it to help a friend, and I agreed to do the job before negotiating a fee... then it's harder. I know I should charge a proper fee, because this guy's doctoral advisor has indicated that he might want me to do some work for him as well, and if I charge too little then it's a bit hard to suddenly raise the price. So The Man is in charge of setting the fee, and will be keeping that in mind. I'm doing the job the same either way.

If we need the money and I'm thinking of the job as income (rather than as supplement to income, as it is this time), then I simply refuse to take on the job if it's not paid well enough. In that case I negotiate the price before taking on the job. But this is one part of the job that I really hate.

Shona said...

Hi Badaunt!

Thank you for blogmarking me. I don't know if you knew already, but I also used to be an English teacher (in Berlin and London). So I will enjoy reading your blog - I haven't been to Japan yet but it's near the top of my (long) list of places to see.

Shona :)

melinama said...

I love that I was the cause of your mild attack of hookey. You deserved it - sounds like this has been quite a long haul with this paper. I agree that freelancers tend to undercharge. This goes for contractors too. The guy who framed my house morosely said that he had (as it turned out) bid too low on every job he had ever done. He said: "it's because I just don't want to believe it takes as long as it really does." This goes for a lot of us.