As a freelance translator, I'm constantly running into a need to check multiple facts and quotes scattered across multiple books. These books, if available online, are often quite expensive, to the point where buying one book might eat all the profit I'm expecting to get from the client (think $30 book needed to check a single fact for a proper translation of a $30 job).

To give examples, one day I might be working on a translation of a physics textbook and will need to look up a number of other textbooks to recall the correct terminology. The other day, I might be translating a piece of fiction filled with allusions to other works of art, so I'll need to look through numerous works of art to undestand the broad context and the implications of each allusion.

What are my options for accessing these books?

  • I could bill my client more, explaining that I needed this and this book to check those and those facts during the translation. This uncovers uncomfortably much about my internal processes; I don't want to argue if I needed this $30 book or could do with a $25 one. I also imagine this will not be taken lightly by the client.

  • I imagine that I'm not the one who has this problem. Are there organizations for freelance translators that would share the costs of book access?

  • Obviously, there are multiple ways to obtain pirated copies of books, but I want to limit the scope of this question to legal options.


I have a yearly software bill that I must pay to work. That fee gets counted as overhead when factoring project costs. These "books" would seemingly equate to similar "tools" required to complete your projects.

This is how business is done.

If you need "tools" to complete you work, whatever they may be - books, pencils, software, etc. - then those tools should be used to calculate your minimum hourly rate.
i.e. -- Overhead x (Profit %) = Hourly rate

I can't imagine that once you have a library of books you'd need to then continually purchase more books. But if there were a case where a particular job required a specific resource, you would then evaluate the resource.

  1. Is it something you'll use for many clients from that point forward?
  2. It it something you'll use for only this one client then never have need of again?

if (1) then you would charge the client a percentage of the cost, generally 10-20% is acceptable. Because the resource would add value to your services, you can't ethically expect the client to pay the full price for it when you will use it for other clients.

If (2) then the client is invoiced for the full amount, in addition to a common markup of roughly 20% to cover the costs of the resource. Again, this is only if this single client will need the resource and you'll never use it again.

You can also build in a cost for yearly upgrade/maintenance of the "tools". If you know, on average, you need to spend $xx per year to keep the tools up to date and viable, then you can add an additional % to your hourly rate to help offset that expense.

As for pirating.. theft is theft. Since all business expenses are tax deductions, it's hard to listen to anyone in business justify pirating the items they need to perform their work. Above and beyond the legal ramifications, there is an absolute connotation that the business will steal from anyone if the need presents itself. At least if the piracy is known about.

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  • Are you talking from the perspective of a software freelancer? I think most of the answer applies, but I'm mostly asking about books that are specific for the needs of each client. I will be giving several examples in the original post. – svavil Oct 31 '17 at 21:28
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    No it's about resources and business overhead. If you need "tools" which may be books... then those "tools" should be factored into overhead. Not invoiced to each and every client. – Scott Oct 31 '17 at 21:53
  1. Old fashioned: look for a local library. Where I live you can get premium-access to the public library for a small monthly fee. You can also go there and read any book on-premises for free, so perfect for checking all available sci-fi books for references etc.

  2. Build up a library of commonly needed books. You could set a budget for that (100$ a month etc.) and factor in the cost in you hourly rate, as suggested above.

  3. Especially for highly specialized work, you could try to negotiate a budget for special expenditures with your client. Say, translation 2000$ +up to 10% optional for expenses - or something like this. You´d then just purchase whatever you needed for the job at hand and put the total value at the bill at the end. No need to ague every decision if you are given an "allowance" beforehand.

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