Monday, July 1, 2013

7 Questions For: Editor Kendra Levin

Kendra Levin is a senior editor at Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), where she has spent the past eight years working on a wide range of children’s literature from picture books to young adult novels.  Prior to that, she worked at Scholastic.  Kendra also helps writers as a teacher and certified life coach (  Authors she edits include Julie Berry, Carol Goodman, Katherine Longshore, Susane Colasanti, David A.Adler, Deborah Freedman, and others.

For more information about the types of books Kendra has edited, check out her lists at Amazon: 

I had the good fortune to meet Kendra at a conference and must say she's one of the nicest, most approachable, well-informed editors I've met. Any writer who has an opportunity to collaborate with her on a project should count themselves very fortunate indeed.

And now Kendra Levin faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Seriously?  You know that’s basically impossible for an editor to answer, right?

Cheating a little bit, I’d say the complete works of Shakespeare, the collected Calvin and Hobbes, and Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Milhauser.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Three total?  Are you crazy?  These questions are too hard!  I love a good drama, but for me, nothing is better than a smart, funny comedy.  In TV, Arrested Development holds the biggest place in my heart, with Party Down and Veronica Mars tied for second.  My favorite movies are Clueless, The Big Lebowski, and Apocalypse Now (not a comedy strictly speaking, but a great film).

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal writer?

Talented, hard-working, open to feedback but with enough backbone to resist input that doesn’t match his or her vision for the piece, grounded and realistic, charming to talk with and comfortable speaking in public, doesn’t take her or himself too seriously…this is starting to sound like a personal ad!  But it’s important for an editor and author to have good chemistry and smooth communication—otherwise, just like in any relationship, you can run into conflict.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I edit all age levels of children’s, from picture books through young adult.  YA makes up the largest portion of my list, but I’m always open to everything, particularly good middle grade.  Viking publishes hardcovers and I focus on fiction, and I’d describe our books as literary with a commercial hook.  Genre-wise, I’ve got a little bit of everything—contemporary realistic, historical fiction, fantasy, humor.  My favorite books tend to be genre-blenders, books that defy categorization.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an editor? What is your least favorite thing? 

There are so many things I love about my job that it’s hard to just pick one!  But I particularly love talking with authors and helping them work out what needs to be done.  It’s always satisfying when they have a breakthrough and I feel like I helped them get there!  My least favorite thing is probably when strangers say to me, “You edit children’s books?  That must be pretty easy—they don’t have that many words, right?”  Grrr.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)
Read for inspiration, not competition.  Write to hone your craft, not just to get published.  If something isn’t working, let it go—most published authors have several novels that never saw the light of day, so don’t keep re-working your first piece if it doesn’t seem to be clicking.  If you can imagine a life without writing, go for it—there are plenty of other great ways to spend your time!  But if you can’t imagine a life without writing, then read, write, be honest on the page, and be ready to totally surprise yourself as you continue to evolve as a writer.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I’ve actually thought about this a lot, and I’m afraid I can’t limit it to one—or to lunch.  My plan (if I ever get the opportunity) is to have dinner with William Shakespeare, Joseph Campbell, and Octavia Butler, followed by drinks with Hunter S. Thompson, Ludwig Bemelmans, and Anne Frank.  A great discussion followed by a night on the town two notorious partiers and one girl who deserves to have a wild time! 



  1. Great interview. Kendra sounds like an awesome editor. And it's so true that having an author/editor relationship that clicks is very important.

  2. Fascinating answers. It was so cool to find a mention of Octavia Butler. I feel she is too often overlooked. I used to teach her book Kindred. It was an absolute favorite of my students (and mine!) and I had the honor of meeting her a couple of times. She was a great lady. Kendra sounds like a terrific editor. Thanks for posting this.

  3. I had the pleasure of meeting Kendra at a conference in Seattle. You're right, she's well-informed and just a very nice person. Great Interview!


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.