A few times a month I receive a form from a translation agency attached to an e-mail asking me to fill it out, including my rates. I think it’s best to ignore these e-mails just like one would ignore any other junk e-mails or unsolicited phone calls. I only respond to genuine requests for my rates and availability for an actual translation.
These forms for future reference and other mass e-mails are sent to many translators who seem like good prospects by an agency coordinator who is not exactly swamped with other work at the moment. Perhaps they found your website, or your listing in the American Translators Association database, or your local translators’ organization database, or your Proz database entry, etc. The thing is, they don’t have work for you at the moment. They think that they probably will, at some point, maybe soon, but not just yet. So they are creating their own databases now that they have plenty of time to do that since there is nothing else to do and they want to have as many translators listed as possible.
Guess which translator will end up getting a real translation job when and if a real job materializes when somebody has a whole bunch of translators in a database? (Hint: don’t forget to include your rates).
If you charge very low rates, lower than what most experienced translators would charge, perhaps because you are a beginner and need to get some experience, my advice would be to go ahead and fill as many forms as possible (and don’t forget the rates!) They might call on you at some point. And you may not have anything else to do at the moment anyway. We can call these translators “subprime translators” after “subprime borrowers” who were taking out “subprime loans” that were so popular in the real estate industry here in the United States not so long ago. Subprime loans were issued by banks and mortgage companies to individuals who represented a high risk of defaulting on the loan due to a low credit score, but who on the other hand were very profitable to these banks and mortgage companies because they could make these subprime borrowers pay very high interest, perhaps after a short initial period of very low interest. The “subprime translators” are also very profitable to translation agencies because their rates are low, so perhaps the analogy is not too strained. Oh, I almost forgot, the way it worked, subprime loans were then rated by credit rating agencies as perfectly safe and sliced and diced on Wall Street and sold to creditors who could not get enough of them, both here in the United States and in countries such as Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Spain. When the borrowers were eventually bankrupted by loans that they could not pay, this caused a worldwide economic crisis which has been with us for at least the last three years and which will continue for … (nobody knows for how much longer and I don’t know that either, hopefully not forever, but who knows). But the people who designed the subprime loans made plenty of money in the meantime and nothing bad happened to them, so you could say that the “subprime loans” served their purpose really well, depending on your place in the food chain, of course.
My advice to “non-subprime translators”, namely translators who have been translating for a while and who do not work for “subprime rates” because they have bills to pay as well as some pride in their work, would be to read a good book or work on your website, or create a website if you don’t have yet, or even to work some more on your listing in an Internet database. Sooner or later, somebody will contact you about a real job and at that point, he or she will be willing to pay the going rate because a real project will be on the line and most of us know that in the real world, you get what you pay for.
P.S. Sometime I also receive similar requests from librarians, patent law firms, inventors, etc., asking for my rates and other information. I always respond to these e-mails because I can ask for a higher rate. But I don’t recall a single instance when my response to such a request would result in real work. The only exceptions are cases when there was already an urgent need for a translation of concrete documents and the prospective customer just wanted to know my rate ahead of time.