I am very happy and grateful to host an interview today with Melissa Hofpar, the brains and beauty behind Composed Success! (One wonderful bonus of interviewing a proofreader – you already know it’s word-perfect, making for very light or no editing!) Here she discusses how she got into the profession and the challenges and benefits of freelance editing…
I have edited documents for several truly brilliant individuals.
What kind of projects do you work on?
With a few exceptions, I primarily work on non-fiction and academic documents. Most of my time is spent writing or editing grant proposals, various types of marketing copy, and user manuals. I also edit and format dissertations, primarily for doctoral candidates in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. I also proofread fiction work and have performed light copy editing for a few authors.
Your aspirations once were to become a journalist. What drove you to move away from that ambition and towards technical editing, writing and proofreading?
I realized that I could not distance myself enough on an emotional level to be an effective career journalist. One spring when I was an undergraduate, I covered a story on local flooding as a student reporter. After watching and speaking to people who had been filling sandbags for hours in an effort to save their homes and properties, I didn’t want to go back to campus and write up a story about these people for the newspaper. I wanted to throw down my notepad and paper right there, pick up a shovel, and help them in their race against time and nature. Shortly after that, I started looking for ways in which I could contribute my writing skills as a member of a team, and that is how I found opportunities in the area of technical writing.
How do you advertise yourself and your services and what’s the most challenging thing about getting your name and company out there?
The most challenging aspect of marketing is simply taking the time to do it! I am on the list of editors at local universities (North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill). I also use social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook on a semi-regular basis, in order to let potential customers know that I am actively engaged in the industry! So much of my work is performed remotely — I only occasionally meet with my clients in person ― so it’s important to maintain a visible presence online.
I truly enjoy the supportive role of helping my clients shine in their respective fields.
How valuable did you find your experience editing a school newspaper and interning? What made you choose freelance work rather than in-house employment?
My experiences during my undergraduate years at two different student newspapers and two different city newspapers were invaluable in laying the groundwork for my career. I learned about the unyielding nature of deadlines, the importance of understanding your audience and the overall power of simple, good writing. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how to handle constructive criticism and how to value input from a copy editor. Now that I’m on the “other side of the pen,” so to speak, I draw from all of those experiences when working with my clients.
What are the benefits and advantages for working as a self-employed editor?
I value the freedom and autonomy in employment. Although an editor never has freedom from deadlines, I do enjoy the freedom to collaborate with professionals on projects that interest me. I also appreciate the fact that I do not have to deal with rush-hour traffic to start work!
Do you stay connected with the editing and publishing industry and professionals? How do you keep yourself on top of new developments?
I have joined multiple professional organizations, such as the Professional Editors Network, the Society for Technical Communication and the American Medical Writers Association, and I also belong to a local writers’ group. In order to stay informed in my field, I take classes whenever I can. One of my favorite aspects of this job is the constant opportunity to learn. This spring, I am taking an online class on the American Medical Association Manual of Style through the Editorial Freelancers Association. I have a strong background in the life sciences, and have edited multiple scientific dissertations, so this class is the natural next step in the learning process for me.
I enjoy the freedom to collaborate with professionals on projects that interest me.
How do you deal with those times when your workload/pipeline becomes light? Equally what’s your process for handling a large and demanding workload? How do you stay motivated at these times?
I tend to use a little caffeine motivation (extra coffee!) when I am grinding my way through a heavy workload. I also break very large tasks up into smaller milestones, which helps keep me focused and motivated to finish (and to push through late nights, when necessary). When I experience periods with a lighter workload, I try to catch up on administrative and marketing tasks, such as updating my website.
Would you say you prefer the editing or the writing side of things?
This is such an excellent question! I enjoy both for different reasons. I primarily prefer editing, because I truly enjoy the supportive role of helping my clients’ shine in their respective fields. I have edited documents for several truly brilliant individuals, and I soak up their energy and learn about their perspectives as much as possible. As a technically minded individual, I tend to view editing as a highly precise activity, and as such I obtain a lot of satisfaction from the basic exercise of fixing what is incorrect and finding potential improvements within text. However, the inner journalist within me enjoys writing as well. Even if I am writing a user manual or contributing to a grant proposal, I enjoy the creative process of building something from nothing and the opportunity to construct information within critically decisive areas for my clients.
I learned about the unyielding nature of deadlines, the importance of understanding your audience and the overall power of simple, good writing.
What type of client do you most enjoy working for?
I have enjoyed working with nearly all of my clients so far. Even though I can’t pick a favorite “type” of client, I find that my favorite clients tend to be more technical by nature, and they all share a common priority with me: their readers. If an author, researcher, or marketing professional is genuinely interested in how their readers will respond to their document, they are highly engaged in the editing process and bring a lot of vivacity into the project.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is the knowledge that I truly am helping people. Whether I’m working for a scientist who is on the cusp of completing a dissertation steeped in ground-breaking research, a company polishing a user manual for a new product that will benefit consumers, or a marketing agency creating an exciting campaign, I get to participate and contribute to an effort that will certainly assist at least one person, and likely will ultimately impact a lot of people.
And a little bit about yourself as a person! What do you like to do (and most specifically read!) in your spare time?
I love to read! I’ve often found that real people are more fascinating than fictional characters, so I generally tend to prefer biographies and books about historical events. Occasionally, I also enjoy reading a good mystery novel, especially one set in a historical time period or in another country. Perhaps the only activity I love more than reading is spending time with my husband, two children, and two dogs. I also tinker with a few small hobbies, such as gardening. One of my biggest ambitions this year is training to run a half-marathon.
Interested in learning more about Melissa’s company and services?
Follow on Twitter @ComposedSuccess
You can also reach her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org