SD/PEN Member Profile: Melanie Astaire Witt

SD/PEN regularly selects one of its members at random to profile his or her background and experience. This profile features former SD/PEN Board President Melanie Astaire Witt, owner of Exceptional Editing.

How do you describe what you do to someone whom you’ve just met at a networking function?

My “elevator speech” goes something like this: I’m a freelance editor and writer specializing in non-fiction—although I love editing children’s books too. Basically, I’m passionate about words and making an author’s project exceptional. Then I listen to the other person’s response and continue my description accordingly.

What made you decide to become a professional editor?

I became a professional editor because it’s in my DNA.

When I was 17 years old, I went on my first interview for a job as editor of a magazine. I was told I had the position—with one little caveat. I merely had to pass the 80 wpm typing test. No problem! The month before, I had won the state of Kansas college typing competition at 120 wpm. I wanted that job so badly and became so nervous that when I sat down at the typewriter (yes, this was a lifetime ago), I couldn’t pass that pesky 80 wpm typing test—even when they gave me a second chance. After crying in my car, I got the next job I interviewed for. Never give up.

As a more seasoned editor, I worked for Sun Features, Inc., a San Diego-based careers publisher. As senior writer, I regularly contributed to Career World, the leading careers periodical used in the nation’s classrooms. Later, I developed a new magazine, School Pals, a national elementary school publication, and served as editor in chief. For many years, I wrote and edited extensively on careers, including authoring the critically acclaimed Job Strategies for People with Disabilities: Enable Yourself for Today’s Job Market to coincide with the enactment of the employment title of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As a freelance editor, writer, and ghostwriter, I’ve had substantial and varied experience. I have a special interest in books, newsletters, and magazine articles—but don’t leave out business promotional materials or handbooks or web content. And then there’s the ghostwriting, which I’ll probably never be able to tell you about to protect the identity of my authors. For several years, I was also heavily involved with the board of directors of the San Diego Professional Editors Network (SD/PEN), including serving as president and newsletter editor of the organization.

I’m passionate about words and enjoy editing just about anything that contains words. So passionate that after years in the field, I went back to school and earned my copyediting certificate from UCSD Extension. It’s like many successful artists say: If you can’t imagine yourself doing any other work and being happy, find a way to do it. So I did.

What accomplishment are you most proud of professionally?

I’m most proud of the relationships I’ve built with my clients. Nothing is more gratifying than meeting and exceeding your clients’ expectations and having them return to collaborate on additional projects.

What do you enjoy most about being a member of SD/PEN?

Being part of a team. For those of us who work in a solitary world, it’s very important to make the kinds of connections that SD/PEN affords us. And for those of you looking to get involved, a position on the board of directors is a great way to get some training, gain experience, and build your resume.

Which quality or qualities would you most like your clients or professional colleagues to remember you for?

I would love if my clients remembered that I truly enjoyed working on their projects and put everything I could possibly put into giving them exceptional results, both in editing and support.

Where would you like to go on your next vacation and why?

Italy! I’m looking forward to going with my husband and son at the end of the year. Because I’ve never been to Europe, I’m excited to explore this beautiful country with such wondrous architecture and an amazing history. I’m also looking forward to sampling the food.

Describe your ideal weekend.

Enjoying my family, scrapbooking, cooking, watching a good movie, reading, and editing for fun.

What is your favorite or least favorite word and why?

How about a phrase? My least favorite phrase is “I could care less” when someone really means “I couldn’t care less.” And I’m mad at the descriptive dictionaries for including such poor grammar and making it acceptable language. I think we need to teach our children proper English if we want them to grow up understanding language, and what their teachers tell them should match their dictionaries.

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