Niche Editing: An interview with Merel Elsinga about editing cookbooks

Interview by Marta Orellana; copy edited by Lola Opatayo

Merel Elsinga

Ever been interested in exploring a particular niche?

This month, Merel Elsinga will be joining us at our monthly member meeting to talk about her experience proofreading cookbooks and how she got started.

Let’s meet Merel!

Hi, Merel! Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What brings you joy? How do you enjoy spending your free time? And if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be? 

Hi! I spent the first 35 years of my life in Amsterdam, where I had a law career for ten years.

Sailing is the most joyful thing for me. It became more and more important in my life, to the point that I decided to take a sailing sabbatical. I planned a trip from Europe to the Caribbean as sailing crew on several small cruisers. In that year, I met my then partner, and we ended up working as professional crew on larger sailing yachts worldwide for over a decade. 

Besides offshore sailing, I was providing fine-dining meals for the guests on board. One of those sailing jobs brought us to the Canadian West Coast, and we immigrated.

My last job, before turning to editing full time, was working as a chef in a restaurant on Gabriola Island, one of the Gulf Islands. I still love sailing and cooking.

If I could be anywhere in the world, I would love to revisit New Zealand for a combination of coastal sailing (buy a boat there) in a beautiful natural environment and innovative cuisine.

How did you get started in your editing career? 

Drafting verdicts and other legal documents (mostly in Dutch, but also in English) required a lot of precision in writing and reading.

Every verdict I drafted had to be proofread by a colleague, and I proofread their drafts. That’s how I developed an editor’s eye.

This background was enough for a local Canadian publisher to (years later) try me as a proofreader, and they are still my most steady supplier of work. 

How did you get started editing cookbooks? Do you have a favourite project that you’ve worked on?

It had never occurred to me to edit cookbooks until I attended an Editors Toronto (I believe?) webinar about cookbook editing a year and a half ago.

After that, I realized: “Wait a minute! I do have the right experience to proofread cookbooks!” The next day, I wrote an enthusiastic letter to a publisher who specializes in cookbooks, and they gave me a project.

My favourite project was that first project for that publisher. The cookbook covered my local region (Vancouver Island), and I had actually eaten the food created by some of the chefs featured in that book. The photos in the book were beautiful, the collaboration with the authors and the publishing editor was fantastic, and their professionalism was inspiring.  

How does your approach to editing cookbooks differ from other editing jobs you have completed? 

You need to go back and forth in the text more than in any other non-fiction work because recipe titles, ingredients, cooking methods, photo captions, and sometimes, tools and equipment lists all have to line up. 

Are there any other interesting niches you would like to explore in your career as an editor?

I love plain language, and with my background in law, I would love to help lawyers create plain language contracts.

What do you hope that attendees will take away from your presentation at the member meeting? 

I hope attendees will have a clearer picture of what it takes to proofread cookbooks; it can be quite technical.

And if it’s not cookbooks, I hope they realize they have a background that allows them to find their editing niche.

Thank you, Merel!


Marta Orellana lives in North Vancouver, BC. She is a copy editor, translator, and proofreader, specializing in Web writing and editing as well as academic and technical writing. Marta is also a French Immersion teacher and a polyglot, whose love of language is what has driven her appreciation for the written word.

Lola Opatayo is a creative writer, content marketer, and editor. Her creative work has been featured in ObsidianThe Best Small Fictions 2020Isele, and elsewhere. She’s the founder of WordCaps where she coaches writers and shares editing and writing resources. She’s on Instagram and Twitter.

Image provided by Merel Elsinga

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