Mike Levine

Mike Levine - Editor

New York, NY, USA

A publishing veteran working with writers of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, I have an ear for the perfect word and a PhD in English.

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Before becoming an independent editor in 2016, I acquired books for Northwestern University Press. Among the authors I published were Jen Beagin (Whiting Award winner), A. E. Stallings (National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry finalist), and Stephen Karam (Pulitzer Prize in Drama finalist). Since 2000, I've taught literature and film seminars in several continuing education programs. I have a BA in English from Washington University and a PhD in English from Rice University. My clients value my sensitivity to language and literary form, my soft touch in critiquing their work, and my understanding of what they want their books to be.


Manuscript Critique —You’ve written a complete draft of your book, but it hasn’t reached its full potential. You’re not sure exactly why it falls short, or you know what’s wrong but don’t know what to do about it. I’ll read it with four primary questions in mind. What is the book trying to be? What are the book’s strongest and weakest elements? How can you revise it so as to take more advantage of the former and minimize or eliminate the latter? I’ll make notes in the file pertaining to these questions and summarize my thoughts in an editorial memo.

Substantive Edit — A substantive edit differs from a manuscript critique in terms of the extent and specificity of my responses. Rather than an overview of various aspects of the manuscript, I’ll suggest changes, usually noted in the file, wherever I think they are needed – for example, moving or deleting a paragraph, condensing or expanding a scene in a novel, or streamlining a digressive chapter. A substantive edit is appropriate when the broad contours of a manuscript are more or less set.

Manuscript Consultation — A response to an excerpt from a manuscript, whether or not you have finished writing it, can sometimes help you see the whole more clearly. I’ll read a chapter (or several, depending on their length) with the same questions in mind as in a manuscript critique. I can share my thoughts either in writing or over the phone.

Line Edit — Your manuscript is ready for the spotlight, but not quite ready for its close-up. A word that hits a false note or a sentence the meaning of which narrowly eludes the reader can have an outsize impact on a book’s reception. A line edit attends to the smallest details, such as word choice, word order, the order and length and rhythm of sentences, and punctuation. The goal is to make the prose resemble a piece of glass – smooth and transparent.

Proposal Edit/Writing — A good proposal casts a book in the most interesting possible light, identifies its audience, and makes an argument for why people will want to read it. Agents and editors want to be convinced that a book will be successful, but they also bring to a proposal ideas about what a successful book is. Whether editing or writing a proposal, I can give your manuscript a better chance to meet the challenges of the publishing marketplace.

All of these services can be tailored to suit the kind of book you’re writing, your goals, how far along you are in the writing process, and your writing practice.


It took me five years to write Pretend I'm Dead, and another three to find a publisher. I was convinced it was garbage and was this close to giving up on it entirely, but then I met Mike through a good friend. The original manuscript contained three gimmicks: a surprise sex change, a surprise cancer diagnosis, and a surprise ending (the protagonist falls in love...with a dog. Surprise!) For some baffling reason, I had been very attached to these surprises. Thankfully, Mike convinced me to get rid of them. He is an outstanding reader/editor/human, so smart and kind and funny, and just a pleasure to work with in general. I would happily recommend him to anyone. — Jen Beagin, author of Pretend I’m Dead

Mike Levine is a visionary. I spent eight years writing a book that never seemed finished. Mike’s faith in the book not only got it published but allowed me to finally stop writing it! Before I was even willing to consider removing a comma, Mike somehow knew what to cut and made me very comfortable trimming my incredibly overlong manuscript. I offer Mike this deal: Help me with my next book and I promise to keep it a little shorter. — Robert S. Bader, author of Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage

As an acquisitions editor, Mike Levine spent years evaluating and perfecting manuscripts for publication. He “knows the market,” which is useful, but more significantly, he is a rigorous but generous reader whose carefully edited books have not only won him the gratitude of his writers but have won prizes as well. I asked Mike whether he thought I ought to take out of my metaphoric desk drawer a novel I had put away, discouraged. His enthusiasm for what was there and his capacity to see what might be if I re-thought a few things – something no other editor had done – impelled me to return to it. It’s shown up on a couple of “best books of 2018” lists, and the shout-out I give him on my acknowledgements page is, I think, the least I owe him. — Rosellen Brown, author of The Lake on Fire

Whenever I was fortunate enough to be entrusted with an ambitious and brilliant novel from a client but found that a second opinion was needed, the outside reader I often sought was Mike Levine. His early editorial insights into the critically acclaimed novel Serena by Ron Rash, among others, were invaluable. — Marly Rusoff. literary agent
English (US)
Biographies & Memoirs
Humanities & Social Sciences
Sports & Outdoors
Contemporary Fiction
Literary Fiction
Short Story

Work experience


September, 2016 – Present (over 6 years)

I offer developmental, substantive, and line editing for book manuscripts, essays, short stories, and book proposals. Since 2000, I've taught literature and film seminars and led reading groups for several continuing education programs, most recently at The Center for Fiction in Brooklyn. I also read scripts for Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Acquisitions Editor

Northwestern University Press
June, 2007 – September, 2016 (over 9 years)

From 2007 to 2016, I was an acquisitions editor at Northwestern University Press, overseeing a wide range of books, including fiction, nonfiction, drama, poetry, and scholarly titles. Among my authors were MacArthur Fellows, Guggenheim Fellows, Pulitzer Prize winners, and Tony Award winners. I published work by novelists Thomas Rayfiel, Kathleen Hill, and Ludmila Ulitskaya; poets A. E. Stallings, Rachel Hadas, and Amit Majmudar; playwrights Stephen Karam, Lydia R. Diamond, and David Ives; scholars Annette Insdorf and Brian Boyd; and novelist Jen Beagin and playwright Clare Barron, both winners of a 2017 Whiting Award. In 2015, I was named to New City’s Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago. I participated in editors’ panels at the Sewanee Writers Conference, the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, AWP, and other conferences.

Portfolio (12 selected works)

Like: Poems

Stallings, A. E.

Pretend I'm Dead

Jen Beagin, Candace Thaxton, Simon & Schuster Audio

The Lake on Fire

Brown, Rosellen

0°, 0°: Poems

Majmudar, Dr. Amit

Memories of Eden

Violette Shamash

According to legend, the Garden of Eden was located in Iraq, and for millennia, Jews resided peacefully in metropolitan Baghdad. Memories of Eden: A Journey Through Jewish Baghdad reconstructs the last years of the oldest Jewish Diaspora community in the world through the recollections of Violette Shamash, a Jewish woman who was born in Baghdad in 1912, sent to her daughter Mira Rocca and son-... read more

According to legend, the Garden of Eden was located in Iraq, and for millennia, Jews resided peacefully in metropolitan Baghdad. Memories of Eden: A Journey Through Jewish Baghdad reconstructs the last years of the oldest Jewish Diaspora community in the world through the recollections of Violette Shamash, a Jewish woman who was born in Baghdad in 1912, sent to her daughter Mira Rocca and son-... read more

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