For an in-depth look at the world of web novels, please check out the MoonQuill Podcast, of which I’m a regular cast member of. Wuxia Selections is a special feature selection of the podcast hosted by yours truly, in which I dive in-depth on what is wuxia, xianxia, and the like.
Running through the weekend of May 16 is a Twitter Q&A session for Wandering Sparrows/譯派湖燕/译派湖燕: a Chinese diaspora women translators group founded by Yilin Wang. Get to know the group and our takes on how we approach work!
— Yilin Wang (she/they) @Flights of Foundry, 5/16-17 (@yilinwriter) May 17, 2020
And finally, Necropolis Immortal reading on Sunday, May 17 @ 11pm GMT+8/5pm GMT+2/11am US EST/8am US PST on the Wuxiaworld Discord server. A Q&A will follow, in which I’ll try my darndest not to give any spoilers!
A hundred thousand years ago, there was a great war between cultivators. Immortals fell by the tens of thousands, the path of cultivation itself was severed, and after the dust settled, tombs forested the world.
A hundred thousand years after the last legend faded, Lu Yun, commandant of tomb raiders, descends upon the world. Armed with the Tome of Life and Death, he has some burning questions to answer.
“This isn’t how you raid a tomb!” Lu Yun smirked at the cultivators frantically scurrying about the ancient tomb. “Do you want me to teach you?”
4.5 years, 7 million characters. SOTR Nov. 19, 2015 – Apr. 9, 2020.
It didn’t really sink in when I translated the last chapter in March — probably because an immediate shift to NECRO was needed because I messed up launch date calculations XD. What really hit it home was posting chapter 2376 and realizing this was the last time I’d ever see that red flower in the updates bar.
How does one sum up the journey of 4.5 years? It really feels like a lifetime since on a personal level, I went through a career change, three global moves, and three more local moves. SOTR has been through three site moves and two leap years. And all of us together have weathered the rise of the industry and the craziness that spawned.
I’d like to greatly thank the team translators Citrus, House, and cv! All this would’ve been impossible without their efforts. Also, proofreader Nabuch (on the alyschu team!) and previous editors Deyna and Kidyeon. It takes a team to bring the old men harem to everyone. 🙂 An immense thank you also to Ren, the man who started it all and made it possible for all this to continue on.
But really, I want to thank the readers. Do you guys ever get tired of hearing that from translators? I don’t know what else to say, only that it’s so true. Every bit of support, be it comments, Discord chats, Twitter RT, reviews, and sponsorships keeps us going. I have received so many touching notes over the years, telling me how much the series or I have impacted their lives. A lot of things have to come together so that I can be sitting here, writing this to you, and the best readers in the world are an integral part of that.
I had the privilege of weathering SARS as a student, and though memories are hazy since that was back in 2003, I distinctly recall the miasma of fear and uncertainty that shrouded the island. Those negative emotions are more than likely heightened for me, because my school ended up closing after a student’s parent died from SARS.
When local news hesitantly mentioned a new respiratory disease on CNY Eve (Jan 24), I had a long discussion with my parents on whether we should prepare ourselves. Thinking about it again and again, I reluctantly ordered some face masks after the traditional family reunion dinner. The masks were very cheap, things considering, and all the gatherings to come over the next week meant we could distribute them to relatives.
“Surely it’s not going to be another SARS. You’re knee-jerking a bit too much.” I think that might’ve been my mom.
Thank goodness I hit “buy” before falling asleep. They were all sold out two days later.
Not gonna lie, the first few weekswere pretty tense.
The coronavirus hitting around CNY was the best worst timing. This is a holiday in Asia that can span two weeks, depending on the country, and is Christmas/Thanksgiving/Easter all rolled into one. For migrant workers, this is the only time of year where they get to see their family. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call this period the annual Asian migration.
A tense undercurrent immediately started running through family gatherings. Regardless of intensity, the island’s population remembers SARS very well.
Questions were bandied around, “Do we cancel the traditional meal on the second day of CNY? Should we not visit each other this year? Should so-and-so with young kids head home early?”
In the end, my family decided to go through all of the CNY festivities with face masks on and adjusted times to avoid crowds.
Daily news updates starting rolling in; a grim atmosphere settled onto the island. We still had our fair share of blasé folks, like some relatives who initially declined the extra face masks. But by and large, folks acknowledged the need for caution.
Why the sudden ratcheting up of tension? I get it, it’s hard for folks who’ve never experienced something similar to understand what’s going on. It looks like an overreaction, or a bunch of Chicken Littles prophesying the end of the world.
Here’s a quote from someone who has COVID-19: “To everyone who said it was just a bad cold or like the flu, or that people were far more likely to be asymptomatic: f*ck you. You have no idea what you’re talking about. This is not the cold. This is worse than the worst flu I’ve had. This is the Grim Reaper knocking on my door.”
SARS was less infectious, but more fatal than the coronavirus.
It really hit home when a businessman returning from Wuhan flouted his self-quarantine and visited a seedier nightclub. Alarm bells rang when one of the ladies who served him came down with a cough, sore throat, and other symptoms. Upon demanding answers, she finally learned of his recent trip. The club shut down for immediate, thorough disinfection, and the businessman’s route over the past few days was disseminated to the public.
The club was in the same neighborhood as my elderly relatives, and I’d just missed his trip down the high speed rail by one day.
Thankfully, he wasn’t a super spreader and that was the end of that case. However, I started checking the news obsessively and worried there were more selfish pricks out there.
Could I trust the people on the bus I was taking? Was that cough just now as innocent as it seemed? Who else was hiding their travel history? Where does case 34 live??
PSA: To anyone flouting self-quarantine rules, yeah you’re a selfish prick/biatch. The desire to go drinking, clubbing, shopping, eating, and seeing friends can wait two weeks. It took one super spreader in South Korea to infect almost 40 people at church, which sent off a chain reaction throughout the country.
I don’t care if you feel healthy. The incubation period is 14 days and infectious even when asymptomatic. Stay. home. If there’s a lockdown order in place for your area, please don’t treat it as a joke.
Everything was uncertain in the first couple of weeks. The island braced for a possible ballooning of cases, and whispers ran rife through the streets.
“So-and-so’s uncle’s neighbor’s mother’s daughter-in-law’s second-cousin-twice-removed’s son says that a confirmed case popped up at XXX hospital!”
“New construction suddenly started on my block. Can it be for quarantine tents??”
“I heard this is airborne.” “I heard it’s not airborne.” “Is it airborne?”
“They announced 7 new cases today, but who knows if that’s the real number? How many more lurk amongst us?”
How’s life in Taiwan nowadays? TL;DR – it’s normal
After CNY, I wondered if I should refrain from returning to Taipei, but did so in the end. There were roughly 10 cases on the island at the beginning of Feb, and I admit I selfishly wanted to return to familiar surroundings.
As the coronavirus flairs up in the west, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends and family on how everything is here. And honestly, that ties into one of the hardest things about writing this article — what to title it.
Taiwan’s not under a lockdown, and neither am I in quarantine. “A COVID-19 Tale: Things-Are-Relatively-Normal-Despite-General-Unease Day 58”?
First time outside since the end of CNY.
90%+ of general public in face masks, disinfectant run over MRT escalator handrails, malls constantly mopped, Din Tai Fung servers in masks & mask prices coming down tomorrow.
People are out on the streets, I got my fix of bubble tea today, and all establishments are still open. Large-scale events like concerts and weddings are cancelled, but life has continued on like usual. In fact, I feel that we were getting too complacent, and the recent spike in cases has jolted everyone back to wakefulness again.
This isn’t to say that the coronavirus is a joke, however. One patient’s tale above shows more than anything how it’s very, very serious. It all has to do with the measures the island took. This is how it manifested in my day-to-day.
When I returned to Taipei, I saw with gratification that all stores and restaurants had hauled out disinfectant and thermometers. This continues to this day. A quick scan of the forehead and splash of alcohol is required before entering an establishment. Some performance halls even record everyone’s temperature next to their names. Thermal screening is found in malls, the MRT, and businesses. Face masks are everywhere, despite the initial shortage.
This is one of the things that’s saddened me the most re. east vs west COVD-19 reactions. The face mask culture is so different, and I’ve had so many friends targeted with racism when wearing them in the west. Face masks are not useless, and if most of the population is wearing it, that drastically helps cut down infection.
Overheard a truck going down the street rapping,
“Wear face masks, wear face masks, you and I should wear face masks! Wear face masks, wear face masks, everybody in face masks!”
Apologies for the hashtag, this is before the COVID-19 name came out.
After the initial scramble for face masks, the government stepped in to centralize distribution and regular prices. I helped some relatives purchase their daily quota from convenience stores, but didn’t bother lining up for any myself when purchase was later tied to national health ID cards.
To quote a Taiwanese meme: 我ok, 你先買 > I’m okay, you buy first. When my masks ran out, I was blessed with the most generous readers on earth. Several of them leapt into action to send me what they could find.
This rationing extended to disinfectant as well, with the severity of rationing easing as factories ramp up production. People are also able to buy face masks online now instead of queuing for hours in front of a pharmacy (instructions above).
Nothing else is rationed. Shelves are stocked full of goods, except toilet paper. We’re short on that here too, lol. It briefly eased when the legislative leader memed that, “People, we only have one butt!”, but flared up again this week.
Daily livestreamed press conferences keep everyone in the loop. The authorities are forthcoming with information, except the exact location of the cases. That’s a stark difference from South Korea, and an omission that prompts plenty of debate. I found myself getting too stressed out and panicky with all the news coming in, so actively tried to refocus on other things in mid Feb.
By the way, foreign visitors are banned of as March 19 and as of March 22, even transit is banned. (Bans for various areas have been enacted since late Jan.) To folks blithely asking me if they can come visit Taiwan right now since flights are cheap, everything is closed at home, and they’re bored — you can’t, and even without that, HELLS NO. Don’t travel right now. There were 5,000 tourists caught off-guard about the ban on March 19. It was March 19, not January 19, folks! Why were you traveling for pleasure??
On a personal level, friends immediately cut down on social gatherings. No movies, no communal restaurants, and no welcoming back anyone who’s recently travelled. We pick local pubs and bars, eschewing the busy and tourist-popular Xinyi district.
What to do when CORVID-19 community infections are a thing in Taiwan?
Eschew all outside jaunts & have a house party! Friends were asked to take off their coats & wash their hands upon arrival & all asked abt recent travel history.
We gather together just once a week, and birthday celebrations are a modest affair. There was one house gathering in mid Feb, and everyone entering the house got unified greetings of, “Hi!! Go wash your hands!”. And now, everything’s on hold for two weeks as we weather the wave of returnees from the west.
Many companies suddenly announced all non-essential employees were to work from home starting last week (March 18), likely in response to the massive increase in imported cases. Some of my friends have had to upgrade home internet to do so, the financial burdens of which are eased by government reimbursement. The second wave of government assistance rolled out on March 25 — mostly utility relief for households and companies. The first wave hit in mid-February, with 60B NTD going towards industries affected by the virus.
Despite being warned about a mass of returnees from the west, it is still a psychological blow to see numbers climbing 23 cases, 27 cases, 18, 16… Those are 10-20% daily increases. This has ratcheted up tension on the island, and were the final death knells for weddings to take place at the end of the month/beginning of the next.
And though folks in more stricken countries may roll their eyes and scoff at 200+ cases (March 25) being a big deal, that’s the thing when it comes to living in Asia. Things spread like wildfire with how densely packed in everyone is and how interconnected everything is. South Korea exploded with several thousand cases over the course of a single week.
What’s most irritating now are the quarantine escapees. Taiwan fines escapees up to 1,000,000 NTD (USD 33,000). Good. The fines should be higher. Just this weekend, we had a club reveler busted for violating quarantine (said club has decided to temporarily close down as of March 23). Due to a newly launched platform integrating multiple databases, big red characters of “UNDER QUARANTINE” popped up when his ID was scanned.
Thankfully, most people do stay put, most likely encouraged by the new quarantine pay that’s been rolled out. Those under house quarantine receive 14,000 NTD for the two weeks (that’s almost 50% of the lowest monthly salary, almost USD 500). It’s not much, but employing both carrot and stick at the same time likely makes for higher effectiveness.
The number of home quarantine people in major cities #Taiwan as of March 24
Since I have a lot of friends in the local healthcare industry, I was quite worried about them early on. In late Jan, the government stepped in to control PPE production, distribution, and pricing — making for short-term general public shortages that were slowly eased as factory capacity increased (from a hefty investment). The shortage was at first irritating and panic-inducing from a general public perspective, but the wisdom there seems to be clear as I haven’t seen my friends agitate about a lack of PPE.
The government also merged data from the national health IDs to the customs + immigration dataset. This way, a patient’s recent travel history will pop up whenever they go in for an eye exam, a root canal, or a sniffle. Sadly, it’s proven useful because people will be selfish arseholes and conceal travel history, whether out of convenience or fear.
Oh c’mon, it’s just the flu! I’m young, it’s not gonna affect me.
If travel was still a thing, I’d hop on the next flight to physically shake you into next week. Hopefully, this has been debunked by now, and please read the tough guy’s account above. But if not, here goes:
Symptoms can take up to 14 days to manifest, and you can infect others during this time.
You can be an asymptomatic carrier and still infect others.
The coronavirus death rate is 20 times more lethal than the flu.
There is a vaccine, multiple vaccines for the flu. There is none for the coronavirus.
If you care about someone with a compromised immune system, asthma, any chronic condition, or is just simply older — this will hurt them so much more. It can easily kill them. This isn’t about you, it’s about them.
At the end of the day, the measures have really worked for Taiwan. The island managed to hold cases to 59 for roughly two months, and the increase in imported cases was inevitable.
The government’s swift response was definitely crucial, but I think equally important was the public’s mindset. All the thermometers and disinfectant just whooshed into existence, and all patrons are very understanding and patient. Holding my hands out for a spray of alcohol is second nature now, and I actually panicked yesterday when my face unlocked my phone.
“Wait… Face ID just worked. I haven’t been able to do that in months… F*CK I FORGOT MY MASK AND I’M IN AN ELEVATOR. F*CKF*CKF*CK.”
The general mindset is mostly one of, “We understand the need for these inconveniences and why everyone’s being more cautious. Yes, it’s annoying. No, I won’t travel. …fine, my wedding is postponed. WTF is wrong with that friend who just came back from abroad and wants to meet up?? Million dollar question, when the hell is toilet paper gonna be back in stock?”
This kind of mindset is something that everyone needs to adopt, and understand that inconveniences are inevitable. We must buckle down in the short-term to ensure that everyone gets through this.
Avoiding indoor spaces and crowds means getting some exercise checking out urban nooks and crannies in Taipei!
Life goes on, as we see from communities preparing for the Lantern Festival and grabbing noodles from the neighborhood hole in the wall. 🤗 pic.twitter.com/eyu4gVvavX
Definitely wash those hands. Whenever you come back inside, don’t touch anything before washing your hands. In fact, strip and shower before heading elsewhere in the house, if possible. Try not to touch your face and ears when outside.
Disinfect door knobs, locks, handles, and commonly shared areas on a regular basis. Wipe down groceries too! There’s no telling how many have handled them before you took them home.
Those with some extra supplies to spare, check in on your healthcare friends, grocery store employees, and delivery folk. Do they have enough? Maybe they need a roll of toilet paper. Finding a microwaveable, home-cooked meal on their doorstep when they come home after a 16-hour shift could mean so much to them. The only way we get through this is by caring for each other, together.
Friends who are extroverts or those who live alone could absolutely do with a checkup. I’ve taken to buying local baked goods and sending it to family in other cities. That knocks out two birds with one stone — supporting local businesses and reassuring folks that they’re not alone.
If you want to go hardcore with the baking, perhaps some home baked goods for those on the front lines. Something easy to eat and nutritious. They’ll really need it in the days to come.
That’s great and all etvo, but I’m seriously bored.
Haul out that homebody bucket list, because things are about to get wild. This is the perfect time for everything you’d always meant to get to, but just never did.
Since February, I’ve revamped my balcony garden, literally scrubbed every single surface and room in my apartment, Konmarie’d all of my belongings, finally organized the damn work shelves, annihilated every last bit of laundry (I never have a pile, woot!), cleaned out all home appliances, put up shelves, and started a wall mural of postcards. I’m still getting around to redoing my bookshelves. Oh you know what, cleaning the fridge will be a good task too.
Chores really do eat up a lot of time and they’re good exercise. At the end of it all, you’ll have a home you know is relatively germ-free, and a spic and span sight that’s easy on the eyes.
I’ve also caught up on several TV series, started a home gym routine, and written a ton in my bullet journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings might greatly help in the days to come.
Do you know how to cook? Best. time. to. learn. ever. This is the beginning of a healthy, cheap habit that will pay dividends after all this is over. Bonus, there’s much less exposure if you don’t have to do food runs.
Social distancing means I’ve been in a restaurant twice in the last two months = plenty of time for home culinary adventures!
I’ve tried all sorts of odd combinations: Asian-flair spaghetti, substituting sweet potato pancakes for carbs & super fancy ramen. What’re you up to? pic.twitter.com/a3SUIAGUvk
When all that seems too solitary, it’s the perfect time to get back in touch with those you haven’t talked to in a while. College roommates, fraternity brothers, book club members, or heck, even the girl you never asked out. Silver lining: asking folks how they’re coping is an easy conversation starter.
I’m seeing friends watch movies together through online streaming syncing services. Absolutely brilliant! Group exercises might be a thing to try too. I did an hour of core sculpting yoga and got my butt absolutely kicked. I thought yoga was supposed to be stretching and relaxing?
The outside is still accessible! Throw open windows, chill out on a balcony, or walk around in your background. Even taking walks out and about is fine if you stay away from people. Vitamin D is helpful for the immune system and general mentalities. Disconnecting from the internet/news will do wonders for mental health. Find some inner peace and don’t let everything overwhelm you.
Ventured out of my usual neighborhood yesterday for some vitamin D and UV rays. Man the streets were quiet!
Also swung by the Howard Hotel, a favorite place of my folks when growing up. Great traditional Taiwanese food!
Please take this seriously, but know that we’ll get through this.
The sky isn’t falling in, but neither is this just a flu. While my life is still relatively normal, I know that’s an abnormality. It’s hardly what you should expect, unless your government took similar measures and the general population is just as receptive.
Of course, our regular day-to-day this time ’round all comes from Taiwan being roundhouse-kicked in the face by SARS. We sure as heck don’t have all the answers, nor are we some perfect utopia. Back in the SARS days, the Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital was spontaneously closed after a cluster case broke out, sealing 930 staff and 240 patients inside.
I’m advised by local healthcare-related friends that medical personnel literally went insane from the pressure. Thankfully, I think that’s no longer a policy. This kind of prior experience is what’s shaped Taiwan’s reactions today. One doesn’t emerge from the flames completely unscathed and unchanged.
One of my greatest struggles now is still trying to get friends and family in the west to take this seriously. Westerners, I understand. It’s very difficult to imagine the impact of a pandemic if one’s never lived through it. But Asians with family in Asia? I actually had a relative ask me a few weeks ago, “C’mon, is it really~~~ that bad~?”
Hello?? Yes, please do treat this seriously.
But also, as crazy as the days now might seem, please don’t despair. Sure, this will take longer than a three-week lockdown to resolve, and everyone’s itching for this to be over quickly. Let’s stand with each other; we’re going to get through this. But do postpone everything through May. I was to attend a wedding in the States in late May — it’s just been moved.
Also, please let me know if you need food. I’ll put out a request on my social media, and if not, I can ship you ramen and curry blocks from Taiwan (they’ll take 8-13 business days).
May we live long and prosper.
Let’s go see the cherry blossoms together when this is over.
And watch a movie, eat hotpot, run a marathon, and swing by all the touristy places.
What happens when you wake up in a novel, not as the main character, but as the supporting cast doomed for execution in a year?
This is a novel that I worked on two years ago as the lead translator and personally did 25% of the novel. It’s an absolutely hilarious romp, and remains one of volare’s most popular offerings to this day.
“Get with the male lead? I just want to stay alive! You can have him, anyone else can have him!”
Would you like to smack Qin Huining, Yuchi Yan, the old dowager, or Li Qitian? You can only pick one!
First off, a huge THANK YOU to all of my readers. This isn’t your typical web novel, so I dearly appreciate everyone very much so! This is a novel of nonstop politicking, scheming, and war between nations, all wrapped up in a no-filler perspective from a sometimes savage noble girl.
To celebrate this chapterversary, I’d like to hand out some marriage gifts for Qin Yining’s wedding!
Ahem, placeholder graphic. XD I yoinked it before Yuuko was done
WHAT ARE THE PRIZES?
One Fuji Instax Mini 9 bundle with film, case, album, lens, and more! When Pang Xiao and Qin Yining are parted… things would’ve been more bearable with pictures of each other!
General goods from Taiwan — it may not be Great Yan or Great Zhou, but there’s an interesting selection of souvenirs to choose from!
Leave a rating and write a review for ROS on the NovelUpdates page. Also, please add it to your reading list to help ROS climb the ranks! I am not soliciting positive-only reviews. Write what you’d like!
Email email@example.com with your volare username and a screenshot of the NU review for verification. The screenshot should clearly indicate your NU username and review date!
Get those entries in by midnight, December 1st, US PST! That’s 4pm, December 2nd GMT+8.
ETVO I HAVE A QUESTION!
How are you choosing the winners?
RNG madness <3
After RNG chooses the winners, I will rank entries based on quality and depth of review. I will not penalize negative reviews.
E.g. RNG chooses entry #53 and #54. #53 is a single line about how “ROS is cute. U guys shud read.” while #54 goes into a rant of how irritating and unredeemable the villains in ROS are. I will most likely rank #54 higher, unless it insults the author or me somehow.
I’ve already reviewed ROS!
No worries! Update your review and send in your entry!
I’ve been stacking chapters to binge read!
No problem, giveaway ends in 10 days on midnightDecember 1st, US PST! That includes two weekends and food coma time over the Thanksgiving holiday. While waiting for the turkey to cook, come read ROS!
It’s really hard to ship to my country!
Indeed, some places are hard to ship to. We’ll work something out!
I still chuckle when I think about how ROS came to be. I almost didn’t pick it up in the first place because I felt the Chinese synopsis was very generic/cheesy, and the typical female lead gets all the guys fluff fluff plot line. Then I wasn’t sure when I could get to it because I started another novel before it. Bizarrely, the stars aligned in the form of a huge plot hole in that novel, so I had to pause it and therefore… get started on ROS, woot!
You’ve read the novels or seen the online scene mentioned in media interviews.
You, too, cut your teeth on fantastical Chinese dramas with beautiful leads and flashy special effects.
Or did you give yourself nearsightedness by sneaking old wuxia books under the covers when it was past bedtime?
Maybe you’re already in the translating profession and are excited to share these sometimes 8D novels with the world.
‘ey there. I’m etvolare (more about me here) and I’ve been around the Chinese web literature scene for roughly four years. Kernels of ideas for this article have been floating around for quite a while, and a behemoth of a future monetization announcement from the leading web novel platform finally galvanized me into action.
I’ll be sharing thoughts based off personal experience in the scene, starting from when there were no companies present. Of course, it’s all my opinion, so your mileage may vary! Other caveats include my background: US-centric and a previous finance career.
So. You want to be a web novel translator because…
…you like the novels and have some free time on your hands.
Do you also like digging holes? 😀 Translation is very much like digging holes, and an endless amount at that.
When you embark on the dao of being a web novel translator, you’re making a commitment to the readers, the author, the publishers, and yourself to see it through. Whether life gets busy or you hate the current arc, the translation must go on!
These days, the standard release schedule is 14 chapters a week, or two chapters a day. If you’re fully bilingual and can jump right in, that’s wonderful! You’ve already got a leg up on many other aspiring translators.
Or, you might be like me, an ABC with a decent enough grasp of Chinese…
…completely poleaxed when faced with the actual nitty gritty of translating.
Chinese idioms? Popular culture references? Slang? And to have them make sense when translated into English?? I almost quit a few times in my first year of this new hobby. No, we cannot just skip whatever it is we don’t know. No, close enough is not good enough. XD
So, given that my first year of this new hobby was as much translating as it was really learning Chinese all over again, I’d give a conservative estimate of taking three hours per chapter.
This also includes post-translation editing, because my creative writing skills had declined an appalling degree since college. Good writing skills are critical, because a mess of grammar/conventions/style in the most humdrum tone is a chapter no one wants to read.
This means if I were an aspiring translator now, I’d be dedicating six hours a day to wading through a chapter of 3,000 Chinese characters, Chinese and English dictionaries in hand, and trying to figure out how to make something like ‘Explode Star Point’ sound like the badass martial move it is.
Six hours a day.
Man. That already sounds more like a chore than anything else.
It really is. Day in and day out, trudging through chapters, battling Chinese and turning it into English. The allure of sharing stories of hot male leads or epic battles wears off after a while, and what’s left is the chore of translating daily. Tough, continuous work like digging holes.
The holes need to be dug, everyday, regardless of how you feel about them that day. Most schedules tend to block in recharging and socialization on Friday – Sunday, work or studies from Monday to Thursday. Now, add in another 6 hours of daily hole digging, and those holes don’t go away if the previous day’s quota was missed.
If that sounds painful, that’s because it definitely can be.
It can feel like a drag even if your novel gets a foothold into mainstream popularity, because Chinese novels are long. One of mine called Sovereign of the Three Realms has 2,374 chapters. I’m only just now wrapping it up after four years! (Granted, that was because I started off as a hobbyist fan translator at 2x a week.)
Are you ready to dedicate years of your life to translating a novel? This isn’t crazy talk, truly. Remember the commitment one makes at the start of picking up a novel.
And what if your novel doesn’t take off? What if…
etvo! I’m just in it because I like the novels! I don’t want to do anything crazy like dedicate six hours a day, seven days a week of my life to it! (and earning some pocket money while I’m at it is also nice)
Sure thing, so three chapters a week AKA nine hours a week sound much better, right?
Are you ready to have no readers? Because that’s what will happen. (‘course there are always exceptions, but… please don’t go into this betting on that.)
Almost double digit hours worth of work a week for a few hundred pageviews, if even that. I’ve seen translators put out 5x a week and get less than a hundred pageviews per chapter. In fact, there was a period of time when one of my novels got ~400 views a month for each chapter.
There were 300+ chapters already translated in that novel, meaning a year’s worth of work.
In ad rev terms, that’s less than $100 a month. So after a year, I had barely any readers and sure as heck wasn’t earning much pocket money. Honestly, getting good at League of Legends and becoming a paid booster would be much more fun and pay better.
This is the sad barrel a translator will be staring down at if the novel flops. A lock into years of hole digging and no audience. It goes without saying how incredibly demoralizing and depressing that prospect is.
…because you hate your future career path/current job.
Sitting at home and earning money banging on a keyboard sounds great, and it is! But… significant sacrifices are made in the form of employee benefits and relating to others if you hop into full-time web novel translating.
Remember the current standard of 14x a week? Let’s go with that, since one needs to maintain that schedule to even have a hope of making this a full-time job. As a general rule, slow releases = no readers.
Two chapters a day, all day, everyday. Whether rain or shine, sickness or good health, vacation or getting stood up on a Friday date.
You could take the weekends off or go on a break for vacation. You just have to dig more holes on remaining time or forgo the earnings. No work = no pay.
Just opting out of pay is kind of not an option when it pertains to a job, so on a recent family vacation, I booted up the laptop every night when we got back to the hotel. I was translating on the plane and during trip downtimes. The alternative was to dig even more holes beforehand so I could vacation without work.
Incidentally, this standard was 5x a week a few years ago, then 7x a week. It was a definite struggle to scale upwards when the standard progressed beyond a chapter a day. Ideally, it’s good practice to translate more than one’s daily releases, for those inevitable sick days, off days, and vacation time. So when the standard is 2x a day, I should at least be doing 2.5x a day. Thankfully, translation speeds eventually improve so that I’m not locked behind a laptop 8 hours a day for 2.5 chapters.
That’s just time, let’s also talk compensation and the whole package.
In web novel translations, there’s no such thing as annual reviews, raises, promotions, or a career path. You, your novels, and you. That’s it.
In most jobs, employees get 401(k) matches, annual bonuses, health insurance, vacation days, and sick days. Jobs can also offer some sort of pension/portfolio advantage/ESOP/related, employee discounts at affiliated brands, points for usage of company credit card, company parties/retreats, and others.
Fully loaded, the entire package is a lot more than just the salary figure, and all of that goes away when becoming a full-time web novel translator.
There’s also the intangibles that I feel are a very important part to consider. Like it or not, we function in a society. Being a translator usually means working alone, and becoming disassociated from society is an entirely real thing. That can do a number on one’s mood and self-worth as an individual.
For example, the translator schedule is completely different from a typical working professional’s. One can easily go an entire day without human contact. There are numerous topics that translators no longer have in common with their social circle (crappy boss, annoying clients, inclement weather affecting commute, etc).
When peers are making senior manager or vice-president later in life, the translator will forever be ‘just’ a translator. I’ve come to expect comments such as, “Wow, it’s such a shame you gave up your former career,” or “Don’t you feel like you wasted your education and work experience”?
…because you want to make the big bucks.
Wot, did that earlier section not scare you off yet? Alright, alright. TL;DR: web novel translating isn’t the key to striking it rich.
Let’s look at some numbers.
Whether you already have a job or are looking to enter the workforce for the first time, 99.9% of web novel translators are contractors, meaning that monthly expenses look different from a 9-5’er.
Taking the wildly successful novel figure from WW’s future monetization post, a translator can bring in $5,000 a month for luckily having their novel take off. This is not the norm, at all. Given the type of person who can translate Chinese into English (please refer to the translator section below), it’s likely they live in a first world country.
Federal tax @ 22% (singles rate) = $1,100 State tax @ 9.3% (California) = $465 Health insurance (21 yr old @ ValuePenguin): $221 Car insurance (@ The Zebra): $143 Rent (SoCal @ Rentcafe) = $1,469 Utilities + internet (Daily Press): $150
Income left after monthly recurring expenses: $1,452
Gas isn’t included in this rough estimate. And please note, taxes simplified for simplicity’s sake. I thought that was reasonable enough to do since I exclude 401(k) and IRA contributions as well.
This is it. For food. Clothes. The pair of glasses accidentally crushed one night which the catastrophic insurance plan doesn’t cover. Anything for entertainment and fun. Christmas presents for family. Charity and contributing to the local community. Saving for retirement. As this was for a young, healthy single, it can easily go into the red when kids and elderly parents are thrown into the mix.
The monthly paycheck is always an unknown in web novel translations.
My numbers are a daily obsession for a gauge of the current month’s take-home. Are they cratering because of a slow arc? Are they shooting back up because it’s a holiday? Every month is a surprise, and it can be quite frustrating to have results be wholly irrelevant to effort.
In my previous 9-5’s, health insurance, retirement savings, on-site daycare, mileage reimbursement, plenty of discounts and tuition subsidies were included. There were raises and annual bonuses. The neighborhood web novel translator has to pay for everything out of pocket, from a pot that we’re never really certain of how it’ll shake out.
What about other compensation methods?
Some platforms take the uncertainty out of the equation and offer flat pay for chapters. Sounds wonderful, until you realize this also places a cap on your earnings when royalties are taken out of the picture.
For a while, there was an influx of new translators in the scene because some platforms offered ~$40 a chapter. Folks saw that as an opportunity to run chapters through Google translate, edit it up some, and collect easy money for quick work.
That’s absolute bollocks for long term career stability. It’s how one’s reputation gets trashed, readers not touching anything the translator puts out because it’s frankly awful, and that $40/chapter quickly dries up when the platform realizes the novel isn’t bringing any readership/money in.
Some translators join teams and turn in work to a head translator. That can go hand-in-hand with a lighter schedule and fewer holes to dig. It’s sometimes viewed as all of the payoff with none of the responsibility, as someone else is on the hook for mistakes. However, this also doesn’t get one far in this scene as it’ll be the head translator associated with the novel, and pay going through one more middleman.
Web novel translating isn’t the path to big bucks, it really isn’t.
…because you’re already a translator.
If all the uncertainty hasn’t deterred the translators reading this write-up, the actual skillset required might. Reality is rarely what’s imagined, even for those with experience in the field.
Being part of the largest translator groups in Taiwan, I’ve had the opportunity to take a close look at the lives of professional translators. I field a lot of questions from interested hopefuls, so I get this, I really do.
Aside from those who have consistent, long term cases (such unicorns), the downsides of being a translator include dealing with horrific clients, shifting deadlines, subpar source material, and constant uncertainty with not knowing where the next case will come from.
Thus, peers are always curious about this different world, interesting subject material that bring up childhood nostalgia, or something that’s simply a different pace from their usual.
As we’ve established already, unpredictability is such a huge thing in this field. It can be exceedingly stressful to not know how well your novel will do, how much you’ll earn this month, and having to keep digging the holes despite all that. Incidentally, the skillset needed here is different.
You don’t need a PhD in Chinese literature. You don’t need decades of experience teaching Chinese. In fact, classically trained translators don’t have an automatic edge over everyone. The first two were once two separate applicants to volare, and I failed applicants with translation degrees all the time because:
English writing ability is crucial.
This may come across as nonsensical, because right, we’re translating from Chinese into English. Of course we need to know how to write in English.
But do you know how to write a novel in English?
Or let’s take a step back, because original writing isn’t on the line here. How are your creative writing skills? This is the requirement for a good end result, not straight 1:1 literal translation into English.
In my view, readers need to get lost in the story, not the foreign-ness of the written word and how weird it reads. They should experience the same emotions we did when reading the Chinese, and feel just the same sense of wonder, curiosity, or fury. For more on translating web novels, please click here (write-up is in Chinese).
I am firmly of the belief that it is sufficient to master just enough Chinese to understand the original text. More of the focus should be on how to recreate that literary world in English. To this regard, widely read English writers tend to end up wielding significant advantage over classically trained or highly experienced translators who haven’t touched web novels before.
Okay all of this is depressing and sounds like a shitty job, why did you quit finance for it?
Haha alright, despite the absolute wall of text up to here, here I am, four years into the scene. Even with all the drawbacks, I chose this path and stuck with it.
I’m absolutely blessed and lucky that my passion puts food on the table.
That’s the long and short of it. Having seen some pretty impressive stuff in my past life as a M&A consultant and corporate banker, it was definitely a gamble to distill that experience and move into another field with it. Thankfully, the bet paid off, even though I still have close family members who scoff at what I do and mutter about getting a ‘real job’.
It absolutely is a gamble. You never know if your novel will find mainstream popularity, or if an arc will be so boring it craters your monthly earnings into nonexistence. Maybe a new novel will launch on your publishing platform and it’ll distract your readers for a while. Or maybe another novel will host a huge event that draws all the eyeballs for a good couple of weeks. Even I find digging holes tedious at times.
However, every reader comment, breathless theories of things to come, fan art, and tricky passage that I get to sound just right brings a smile to my face. To be able to share these stories with a receptive and enthusiastic audience is this bookworm’s dream come true. I love what I do, and have found living through a developing industry very interesting. And that’s probably my ultimate answer to “so you want to be a (full-time) web novel translator”?
Make sure it’s passion that drives you, and make sure you’re able to put food on the table until it can sustain you.
Derp. I’d actually wanted to make this post about monetization in the scene. XD
A Hero Born. Hailed as the Chinese ‘Lord of the Rings’, 300 million copies of series have been sold in Chinese. To the great excitement of the world, this masterpiece received an official translation that was published in 2018.
It’s 2019. Why is this review coming out only now?
Straight off the bat, I must apologize. MacLehose Press was so gracious as to send me a review copy and I never got around to it. I happen to be a Chinese fantasy translator myself, running in a cohort of likeminded folks. We were naturally tremendously excited to see an emblematic work come out in our sphere, and I personally looked forward to putting the novel up on my shelves as a reference guide for my own work.
So as a forewarning, parts of this review will be highly critical, as evident in how long it took me to eventually get to it.
Off topic: I like the cover design very much so. Michael Salu marries well the Chinese elements with English reader appeal. Covers sell books, and I definitely would’ve stopped in the bookstore when seeing this. I also love the insert art within the pages. They’re the perfect touch to bring the scenes to life.
So what kinda punk am I to not see Mt. Tai?
I belong to a group of online wuxia/xianxia translators, and have been in this scene for almost four years, witnessing firsthand the rise of online Chinese pulp fiction around the world.
We’re a bunch of wuxia fans, bookaphiles, or drama addicts who started out just wanting to share these awesome stories with those who didn’t know Chinese. We grew up binging on Jin Yong novels under the covers or cooing over the male leads in a wuxia drama. Some of us even take martial arts lessons, or tuned into the online Chinese literature scene when it took off more than two decades ago.
As the scene grew to a more developed, mature industry, some of us turned from hobbyists into full-time translators. I personally left behind a M&A consulting/corporate finance job to walk the jianghu full time.
Most translators work with web novels and churn through anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 Chinese characters a day. While high literature and web novels aren’t typically mentioned in the same sentence, it’d be no hyperbole to say that those of us who’ve been around have handled several hundreds of millions of characters in a few short years. To quote what a friend in the scene once said, at some point, quantity becomes quality through sheer force of volume.
In short, we’re some uber fans who live and breathe this material daily. Naturally, we’ve got some opinions on translation styles and principles, yours truly included.
You say tomato, I say tomahto. So what’s in a name?
So we come first to one of my primary gripes about the translation — the names. Names are an absolutely crucial part of a novel, if not part of the heart and soul. They can make or break the audience resonating with a character, or turn an awe-inspiring fighting move into one with the force of a limp noodle.
In ‘A Hero Born’, we have male lead Guo Jing, son of Skyfury Guo, and female lead Lotus Huang.
A simple one-liner about the cast was enough to send me into paroxysms of horror when I first picked up the book. Some readers might look at me blankly and go what’s up? It’s all pinyin and Chinesey, ergo it looks fine in a Chinese fantasy novel?
There is so much wrongness here, but let me raise Harry Potter as an example. Since it’s originally written in English, that make it more apparent just how jarring the naming scheme is.
We have Harry Potter, son of James Potter, and a student in house Gryffindor (but could’ve gone Slytherin). He eventually marries Ginny Weasley.
Or rather, what if we had Harry Potter, son of Potter Zhanmusi, a student in house Gelanfenduo (but could’ve gone Slythern). He eventually marries Weasley Ginny.
And that, right there, is my biggest beef with the translation of ‘A Hero Born’ and why I couldn’t bear to read it. There’s a smattering of translated names in Western syntax. There’s pinyin names in Chinese syntax. There’s partially translated names in… an east-meets-west-and-they’re-still-fighting syntax.
To be clear, I’m not saying that translating the names into English is wrong. That’s a translator judgment call and reading about Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang is certainly much more intuitive and descriptive than Guo Xiaotian and Yang Tiexin.
However, consistency is key.
For non-Chinese speakers, is it readily apparent that Guo Jing and Skyfury Guo are related? I might just think they share a same name, like James Marshall and Marshall Lee, but they have nothing to do with each other. It’s an enormous cast to keep track of, and wouldn’t Guo Jing and Guo Skyfury be more intuitive that there’s some sort of familial connection?
Does that syntax feel weird? Sure, but these aren’t Western culture characters. It’d be stranger still if their names made perfect grammatical sense in English.
And why on earth do the two main leads have different name syntaxes? Guo Jing vs Lotus Huang. Was Lotus adopted by a Western family or raised in an English speaking world to justify the mish-mash of syntaxes?
This is often a judgment call to be made in wuxia translation. We’re dealing with a ton of pinyin, which is absolutely exhausting to keep track of in an epic-length novel. ‘Forefather Qianye’ makes much less of an impact than ‘Forefather Thousandleaf’. I chalk up the use of pinyin in names and honorifics as a stylistic choice, but the principle underpinning it all has to be consistency. The syntax and style must remain consistent.
Setting aside the fact that I don’t like Huang Rong being English-fied, interactions between characters that wasn’t present in the original had to be added in the translation to illustrate the use of ‘Lotus’. If a step like that had to be taken to explain a translator decision, doesn’t that hearken to the notion that this might not be a good idea?
I understand that Anna needed to indicate that the ‘Rong’ was a character used only in girl’s names, but alternatives would’ve been a footnote or (what I usually do) clarification of the character within the dialogue. The ‘rong’ character is also generally understood as a reference to the hibiscus flower…
Y’all need to get off your high horses!
But perhaps me and my colleagues are a bunch of purist translation snobs. Just as food doesn’t have to be prepared by a Michelin chef to be delicious, neither does a translation have to be the most accurate one in the universe for a novel to be enjoyable. We are hardly the authoritative experts when it comes to translation.
Ready to eat humble pie, I introduced the book to bookaphile and Chinese drama friends when it came out. I especially pointed it out to ABC friends with enthusiasm. These are folks who grew up watching the dramas with their parents and couldn’t fully read the originals due to the language barrier. They were absolutely perfect target audiences who would respond favorably to this masterpiece finally getting translated.
I ran into similar feedback, and noted the same with other online reviews. How the names are handled throw so many people off. I was bombarded with complaints from those I’d recommended the book to, with some going more in-depth in saying that the writing lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. To which, I wonder if Anna Holmwood’s background factors into it.
Anna Holmwood is a wonderful writer — despite my immense gripe about the names, the prose itself was lovely to read. Given her work with the Emerging Translators’ Network and previously as editor-in-chief for Books from Taiwan, her expertise and abilities are not to be doubted.
However, I don’t see many wuxia, xianxia, or xuanhuan works in her resume. For all we characterize wuxia as Chinese fantasy, it’s very much a genre and world of its own. Notions like the jianghu and wulin are completely absent in other genres and fantasy at large. It’d be similar to having a romance author write a litRPG novel. The end result would still read smoothly, and it’d be a great story, but the tone just wouldn’t be quite right.
…this all further reinforced my inertia to crack open the book.
You really are just a snob, etvo. Fite me with your kung fu.
What does wuxia experience matter? Literature is literature is literature.
Alright. Wuxia knowledge is imperative when it comes to naming martial moves and referring to quintessentially wuxia concepts.
Martial methods, weapons, and treasures are the bones of a wuxia novel and critical for the story’s structure. I found the translations in ‘A Hero Born’ to be very literal. ‘Bare Hand Seizes Blade’ or ‘Open the Window and Push Back the Moon’.
While those can barely work, something like ‘Twice Foul Dark Wind’ is off the mark. It’s a reference to a couple who practices the famed move Nine Yin Skeleton Claw. And the translation places the focus on the entirely wrong subject.
I’m really, really sorry, but a dark wind that’s twice foul… makes me think someone is letting loose with one helluva fart due to the ‘breaking wind’ idiom. More accurately, the translation should’ve been something like ‘Twin Devils of the Dark Wind’ or something like that. Tweak as one will for style and preference.
Whenever qinggong is mentioned, it’s done as ‘lightness qinggong kung fu’. I understand the struggle to translate this, I hate doing this term as well and opt for levitation skills (with a footnote) or immense leaps/jumps or qinggong. But so many words to describe one martial concept illustrates the ongoing struggle throughout the novel to accurately define the notion. In the end, the reader gets bogged down in the redundancy.
Being literal VS localizing more in the target language is a translation debate that will likely rage forever on. I fall on the latter side of that argument, and feel that it’s part of the translator’s job to translate the essence and meaning behind a phrase, rather than just parse a singular Chinese character into an English word.
Literal interpretations breaks immersion into the story and cuts into the flow of a fight at the very least, at the worst we get something that sounds kind of right, but isn’t. This is when knowledge of wuxia plays a role, especially in the world of xianxia that I play more in, where golden cores, nascent souls, and internal manors play a role in cultivation levels and dao.
For example, the ‘Supernova Point’ is a move that comes up in one of my own novels. Translated literally, it would be ‘Explode Star Finger’. Using that in a fight would be almost hysterically comical, not to mention the localized translation paints a more vivid picture on what the move actually does.
And this, this right here, is the bones of a wuxia novel. Treasured weapons clanging against each other in the pursuit of justice and revenge. Magnificent moves with immense schools of thought behind them being executed in their refined glory.
And in the midst of all that, an incredible farting villain dashing in and out of it all. Oh dear.
Incidentally, why is the Wades-Gilles spelling of Taoist used in the novel, but hanyu pinyin for all other Chinese words?
Here comes the rest of the kitchen sink…
Speaking of fights, some of the sound effects in them are straight up pinyin. I’m curious as to why ‘sha, sha, sha‘ was chosen over ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh’ in some aspects, but not all. Additionally, I might’ve missed the definition of wulin when it first comes up, but this critical wuxia term is referred to over and over again without immediate explanation. There’s a nod to the metaphor of ‘martial forest’ in the intro — who reads those though?
The moves in general are often referred to as kung fu in the novel. Though Anna gives the technical definition of kung fu as anything that takes dedicated practice or time to study (possibly to head off the exact point I’ll make, heh!), it’s hard to get away from the popular culture conception of the term.
Whether it be Jackie Chan, breaking bricks with one’s head, or high pitched screeching while bouncing on the balls on one’s feet, it seems to me that the term has moved slightly away from the notion that’s being referred to in ‘A Hero Born’. Language is a moving, breathing concept and it’s important to factor in its changes.
Translating the measurement units of jin, li, etc would’ve enhanced understanding of the novel without taking away from its authenticity.
I’m also not a fan of how all the titles were capitalized. “Only bad Emperors keep bad Chancellors.”
Suppose the bad Emperor only became bad because he lost his Sword to the bad Chancellor, who took it because his Teacher was secretly a Spy from another Nation? The Emperor was a good Emperor before!
When everything is capitalized, nothing is special. These are just little nits that would’ve gone a surprising distance to making the novel more accessible and digestible.
PS. The irresistible urge to giggle visits whenever I read ‘devilnuts’ flying around. Was there really no better alternative? Perhaps Chinese caltrops? That would’ve been a perfect subject for an illustration.
This Jin Yong guy seems kinda famous huh?
At the end of the day, why should one pick up a 400+ page book when there are so many adaptations, reboots, remakes, and remakes of the remakes, each with their own delectable cast and increasingly lavish sets to choose from?
And that brings me to a tangent. The dramas.
I’m not joking when I say that even the remakes have remakes. Jin Yong is SO beloved and SO iconic that there are nine versions of the Legends of the Condor Heroes drama alone. The last one was greenlit just this year. There’s three movies, an animation, manhua (comics), computer games, musical theater, even broadcast theater. This is all for just one of Jin Yong’s series.
There is so much history established with this series that it’s baffling for ~50 years of precedence to be bucked when it comes to naming. Surely it was foreseen ahead of time that the backlash would be enormous, yet the editors still decided to go with the executive decision of an inconsistent naming scheme. For being most concerned about the reactions of Chinese diaspora and Jin Yong fans, as Anna expressed in a CNA interview, this just seems odd.
Plus, this also comes across a missed marketing opportunity. Generations of Jin Yong readers are already out there, setting the stage for success from day one for the English series.
We get it, you obviously hate the novel.
At the end of the day, it’s a very well written novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the prose, especially compared to the web novels I usually have to wade through. Anna’s writing flows smoothly, and I really got vested in the pacing of the scenes.
If one is going into it without much knowledge of wuxia and is looking for a solid introduction to a Chinese classic, this is a solid pick.
If one wants to first read up on the Legends of the Condor Heroes before diving into one of the billion adaptations, this is also a solid pick. If one wants to revisit childhood nostalgia, this is fantastic.
If one is an opinionated bilinguist who counts themselves a ‘xia fan, this would not be the novel for you. You’d be spending too much time nitpicking over name translations and wuxia concepts to enjoy the work, and you’d still be unhappy at the end of the day. This here grouch is going to get off her soap box now, thank you for tuning in.