Transcripts

Inside Christian Publishing with Nick Harrison 12/5/02

 

Legend:

Questions from the Audience are presented in red.

Answers by the Speaker are in black.

The Moderator's comments are in blue.

mary rosenblum

Nick Harrison has spent the past 25 years in the Christian publishing arena. He's been a bookseller, an author, and an editor. During our visit he will offer tips on breaking into Christian publishing and will give us an assessment of the current market for manuscripts. Nick enjoys teaching and nurturing writers, both through Long Ridge and through the several writers conferences he attends each year as an instructor.

 

He will be talking with us about Christian publishing, what the markets are like, and what the editors want.

 

Well, I think we'll get started, Nick. Welcome to the Long Ridge Auditorium. I hope half our audience isn't stuck with candles on the East Coast tonight!

Nick Harrison

Hi all. Glad to be here!

mary rosenblum

Welcome to all of you out there.

 

So, Nick. When did you first start writing for he Christian market?

Nick Harrison

About twenty years ago. I did articles at first. Later, books.

mary rosenblum

I'm curious. Did you choose to write exclusively for the Christian market from the first, or did you get into it later?

Nick Harrison

No, actually one of my first sales was to the Sunday magazine section of the Portland Oregonian. Most, but not all, has been in Christian markets.

mary rosenblum

What is it that you enjoy about writing for this market?

Nick Harrison

Well, it's very much a part of my life. I became a Christian in 1969, in college. After that, everything changed especially my writing.

mary rosenblum

You know, I think I'd better back up here a bit, and ask you to define 'Christian Market' for our audience.

 

I'm not really sure I can define it, myself!

Nick Harrison

Oh boy. Well, there are quite a number of book publishers (and magazines) that are part of

 

CBA (Christian Booksellers Association). They market their books and magazines to pretty much the evangelical market and even the secular market more and more.

mary rosenblum

Interesting, Nick. So who are the readers of Christian fiction and nonfiction?

Nick Harrison

Predominately women buy books. We of course publish to men, but women seem to be the book buyers.

mary rosenblum

So is the fiction or nonfiction market the stronger of the two?

Nick Harrison

For writers, fiction is. More and more, publishers of non-fiction are favoring authors who have a "platform" from which to

 

promote their books. Radio, TV, things like that. I wish it weren't so. And there is room for those without this platform, but it's harder.

mary rosenblum

So, if you want to write an opinion piece, say, about the Christian church and its doings, you'd need to have some sort of credentials?

Nick Harrison

Not a "piece," but a book. I should have been clearer. The market is quite open for articles, but as a book editor, that's not my specialty.

mary rosenblum

Aha. So, can a beginning writer, who successfully publishes articles, hope to sell a book later?

 

Even without a platform?

Nick Harrison

Yes! Articles are a great way to begin. To build an audience. And it builds your skills as you're learning.

tigger

Hi Nick. Are you answering questions about the Christian magazine market tonight, too, or just the book market?

Nick Harrison

I'll do my best with magazines. I talk to editors at conferences, so I do know a bit about it. But mostly I'm talking about books and good writing,

 

whether for articles OR books. The rules are basically the same for good writing.

mary rosenblum

So how does a new writer get started in the field? What is the best way to break in?

Nick Harrison

Taking a Long Ridge course is a great start. Reading the publications or kinds of books you want to write is also important.

 

Much of the success will depend on an author's willingness to learn the markets. The actual writing is only a part of it.

feliz73

Are editors looking for any specific areas for Christian Children's books?

Nick Harrison

For fiction (both adult and children) the trend is for series. And problem books are still wanted. How a child might deal with his or her parent's divorce, for example.

mary rosenblum

Nick, what is the dividing line between 'Christian' and 'secular' fiction?

Nick Harrison

It's getting more vague in some ways. Our readers expect clean language, some sense of message, and good characters.

 

However, don't interpret that to mean it must be message-driven, or even plot-driven. I prefer character driven, as I think readers do,

 

but it must have some sort of message DEFTLY woven into the story.

chatty lady

By good characters, do you mean well behaved or solid?

Nick Harrison

Solid, definitely.

mary rosenblum

So the message doesn't have to dominate. Is it enough to have a strong character story where the POV is simply Christian?

Nick Harrison

Yes, but I've had success finding some novels where the character isn't a Christian at all, but becomes one during the course

 

of the book. But it must be handled very carefully. The conversion must be natural, not forced or contrived. That's where many writers fail.

mary rosenblum

I'm assuming then, that Christianity, has to be a part of the story?

 

That's really the only 'must do'?

Nick Harrison

Well, 'has' is a strong word. But for most publishers in CBA, yes.

tigger

I would like to write a book of devotionals for women. I know there are a lot of them out there already, but I feel called to do this. Which publishers would be particularly open to this and how would I go about doing a proposal for a devotional book?

Nick Harrison

I've done four devotional books. There is a demand. But it's hard. For one thing, unless you're a "name" that readers

 

will recognize, you're better off doing a devotional more narrowly targeted than just to women in general. Maybe divorced women, or single moms...that sort of thing.

mary rosenblum

Would this be a case where it might be wise to sell articles on this topic first?

 

Before attempting to sell a book?

Nick Harrison

Possibly. But if a writer presents a strong proposal on a topic not frequently addressed, it can happen. I've just done a new

 

devotional (with a friend) for new dads. There's really nothing out there for new dads in the way of a devotional, so we proposed one and it was accepted.

leo angevine

I am a student in school for ministry. I am writing a paper on End of Life Issues specifically, physician assisted suicide. Is there a market for such things?

Nick Harrison

If the angle is unique and not a rehash of what's been said. This is a highly controversial topic, but would be successfully received

 

if you're an authority or have some other reason why someone should buy your book. Will someone well known endorse it, for example?

 

Also you have to know which publishers are doing books like this. That's called researching the markets.

mary rosenblum

So, Nick, what are the mistakes most writers make when trying to sell their books to Christian publishers?

Nick Harrison

Ah! Well, we just touched on one. They submit their queries and proposals to publishers who don't do that genre of books. No research.

 

Another mistake is simply poor writing. Yet another is that they have only one book in them. Most publishers are looking

 

for authors with whom they can build a long term relationship and publish several books. If you only want to write one book, it's harder going,

 

except in the tragic case of Lisa Beamer and other situations where the story is unique.

mary rosenblum

I have to ask. What is the tragic case of Lisa Beamer?

Nick Harrison

Her husband was the hero in the WTC tragedy. He's the one who told the other men, "Let's Roll" which is the title of her bestseller.

mary rosenblum

Oh, yes. Pardon me, my brain isn't working tonight!

feliz73

What would a "strong proposal" look like?

Nick Harrison

It would include, first, an irresistible idea. The author would have some authority for writing the book and would be a good writer.

 

The proposal itself can be short--only a couple of pages plus perhaps three sample chapters.

mbvoelker

I consider myself a writer who is a Christian rather than a Christian Writer. Does the Christian market have a place for writing that has Christian themes and an awareness of God, but where the characters don't talk much about religion or spend a lot of book time (as opposed to "on screen" time), on their knees?

Nick Harrison

Yes. If the writing is strong. I prefer books with subtle spirituality (although admittedly they sell less well in our market).

imhopeful

How do you inform a publisher that you're full of ideas for more than one book?

Nick Harrison

In your proposal you can simply mention possible follow up books briefly. And simply say you're a committed writer who wants to pursue writing long-term.

imhopeful

Do any Christian book publishers accept new authors without agents?

Nick Harrison

Yes. Some publishers actually prefer authors without an agent.

tigger

If you're writing a proposal for a devotional book, how many sample devotionals should you include?

Nick Harrison

For my proposals, I did 12. I did one for January 10...and then the tenth of each month thereafter. But that's just me. 10-15 is good.

jared

How do I go about finding an agent with experience in the Christian publishing world?

Nick Harrison

There are several. I strongly recommend going to at least one Christian writers' conference a year.

 

There are always agents there looking for writers. Conferences are a must in my book. And there are several

 

around the country. I will be teaching at the Florida conference in February, Mt Hermon (California) in April...and there are many other good ones.

bingocliff

Are you talking only about non-fiction writing here?

Nick Harrison

No, not at all. I acquire both for Harvest House.

feliz73

What other writer's conferences do you attend?

Nick Harrison

I will be only at the ones I mentioned. But there are good ones in Las Vegas, Illinois, Guelph, Canada and many other places.

imhopeful

How many devotions should be in a book?

Nick Harrison

The ones I've done have had 366. But there are shorter ones. Some only 30, some 52, some 90, some 101 or just about any other number. Oddly,

 

my new dad's devotional is only 89 because of space. It's the first one I've done that isn't 366.

jared

What kind of adult fiction is popular in the Christian market?

Nick Harrison

Series fiction with a strong female protagonist and some romantic interest. That seems to sell best, though it's not what I really prefer to see.

mary rosenblum

Is the fiction readership strongly female?

Nick Harrison

Yes. We have published a novel by Craig Parshall, which is sort of Grishamish and it's selling well. But this author is highly visible and

 

has done a good job of promoting it. And let's not forget the Left Behind series, which has sold well to both sexes.

mary rosenblum

So what fiction do you prefer to see, Nick?

Nick Harrison

Character-driven. I strongly recommend a novel I acquired called After Anne. It's great writing, no romance, but pretty much

 

a woman's book. And I met this author at a writer's conference. She has a contract for another couple books with us.

feliz73

Does Harvest House publish children's books?

Nick Harrison

Sigh. No, although I'm lobbying for us to do so. We do a couple of children's books by one of our adult authors, but we don't really have a line of kid's books.....YET!

writerbee

What kind of fiction would you like to see?

Nick Harrison

Not preachy. Strong characters. I recommend The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. It's great. I also have just

 

purchased his new book The Plot Thickens, which is totally about fiction. Also, I must mention my friend Elaine Wright Colvin's

 

website. She has a group called Writer's Information Network and I strongly suggest you subscribe to her newsletter. She offers

 

good information in every issue. And by the way, I have written the lead article in the next issue. I think you can find her online by

 

doing a search for Writer's Information Network. Do subscribe. You'll be glad you did.

mary rosenblum

It sounds as if these books you mentioned are about writing for the Christian market?

Nick Harrison

No, but good writing is the issue. As I mentioned one mistake is simply that some writers want to write but don't want to

 

do the necessary preparation. God will bless those who learn the craft of writing. Doors will open through persistence and learning

 

and alas, rejection. But those rejection slips should keep you going. Everyone gets them. Often it means you just

 

haven't connected yet with the right editor.

bingocliff

It sounds like you accept stories leaning more to spirituality rather than the strictly religious.

Nick Harrison

Christian spirituality, yes.

imhopeful

Does humor work for adult devotions?

Nick Harrison

Yes. Especially for women. We have a couple of women writers who do humor well. Becky Freeman is one.

mary rosenblum

Ha. That's my birth name. We may be related!

arfelin

Is there much of a market for Christian Short Stories?

Nick Harrison

Perhaps in magazines, but doubtful. This another area I wish there was a market for. But even in the secular arena

 

short stories don't sell like they did 50 years ago.

mary rosenblum

What about personal narratives, especially the nostalgia type, where writers recall childhood events? Is there a magazine market for those?

Nick Harrison

A magazine market, yes. Sadly this is yet another area, book-wise, where there doesn't seem to be a market. In the

 

secular world, memoir is BIG. Think Angela's Ashes. Or All Over But the Shoutin'. Yet in CBA, memoir doesn't do well.

mary rosenblum

What about non-Christian writers? Is there room for them in this market either in fiction or nonfiction?

Nick Harrison

Well, the problem is if they don't share the same world view as the publisher is trying to market to, they won't write well for it.

 

Our readers expect a certain kind of book from us and we don't ever want to disappoint them. That's true of all publishers

 

I think. So we want writers who share the worldview of our readers and our publishing company.

mary rosenblum

So what does a new writer need to do to get his or her work noticed by the editor faced with that slush pile?

Nick Harrison

Forget forever the slush pile. Since 9/11 many publishers wont even look at unsolicited manuscripts. Instead we rely on referrals from authors, meeting authors at conferences, and originality.

 

For instance, I was interviewed by Publisher's Weekly awhile back and an aspiring author read the article and sent her self ppublishe book to me

 

without wanting anything from me. As it turned out, it was well written and I'm hoping to see a book from her we can publish.

 

A good hint is to look at books in the bookstore that are similar to what you want to write and see if the author acknowledges the editor.

 

Then send a query letter to that editor. Those do get opened as opposed to those that simply come in to the editorial department without a name.

mary rosenblum

In other words, if you want to break into this field, you really are going to have to network, attend writers conferences, and introduce yourself to published writers and to editors?

Nick Harrison

Yes, indeed. And it's not hard. Here's the situation: Writing well is your goal. If you are a good writer, you will be found out.

 

We editors make our living by finding authors. We WANT to find you. And if you write well and meet us through the mail

 

or at a conference, it will happen. Concentrate on being an excellent writer and continue networking. It will happen if you're good and you're persistent.

bingocliff

Wow...that can be expensive.

Nick Harrison

What? The conferences? If you go to one a year that's a few hundred dollars (tax deductible, usually). But if you want to write, it's worth it.

 

See if your church will send you as part of their missions budget. Raise the money someway. But GO!

mary rosenblum

I know that in the SF, fantasy, and mystery genres, writers and editors are very happy to chat with aspiring writers at conventions. I'm assuming the situation here is similar?

Nick Harrison

Yes. At conferences, a good time is had by most everyone. Good fellowship. Great classes from pros--agents are there,

 

editors are there and at most conferences will critique your work. Many a book has been acquired at conferences.

imhopeful

What do you like to see in a query letter?

Nick Harrison

Keep it to one page. Tell me your idea and why you're the person to write it. Also briefly what are the competing titles in the market.

mary rosenblum

Can you recommend any good books on writing well for the Christian market? For that matter, would you care to recommend any books on writing in general?

Nick Harrison

Well, the two by Noah Lukeman. I strongly suggest The Writer and Writer's Digest. Oh, by the way, our Harvest House website is just up. Please visit and see

 

what we publish. And here's another thing: it's still pretty uncommon to try an email query. But there are only 17of you and if after all this, you feel like you have an irresistible idea for me

 

you can email me at nick.harrison@harvesthousepublishers.com. I actually prefer to work through email, though most editors don't.

 

But please only query me if you really think you have something I'd like to see.

mary rosenblum

That's very generous of you, Nick.

 

And if you'd like to give the URL of the Harvest House website, it will be on the transcript,

 

which is posted on the website. People can follow the link to it.

Nick Harrison

Make sure you note that dot in between first and last name. Otherwise it goes into cyberspace.

 

www.harvesthousepublishers.com

mary rosenblum

Great. It will be available after the interview in the archived transcripts.

imhopeful

Do you find many new authors through queries?

Nick Harrison

No. For one thing, as I said earlier if you're writing non-fiction, it's hard to break in.

 

I should mention something you all may not know. The decision to publish a book at almost any publisher these days

 

is made by an acquisitions committee. On that committee are members of not just editorial, but also the sales and marketing

 

departments. Many good proposals get passed over because marketing or sales don't think the books will do well. No matter

 

how well written, they have to actually SELL. So when you do your proposal, you must imagine these sales and marketing

 

people reading your proposal. How will you convince them that you're the person to write this book? That's why it's harder to sell

 

non-fiction than to sell fiction.

mary rosenblum

Alas, this is true across the board for all genres, both fiction and nonfiction.

arfelin

Does the Christian market generally prefer nondenominational beliefs?

Nick Harrison

I think inter-denominational would be a better word. We are conservative though, so many liberal Christian readers would be more

 

likely to be reading books by, say Fortress Press or Harper San Francisco or some other publisher. Again, this is the research part of your task. Know what each publisher publishes.

 

I often recommend serious writers try to get a part time job in their local Christian bookstore. You'll be amazed at how much you'll learn.

imhopeful

Is the Christian book market growing?

Nick Harrison

Oh very very much so. "Religion" is one of the few genres that is actually increasing in even the secular world. And in CBA,

 

we're also growing very rapidly. Our books are in all the big chains now...Barnes and Noble, Borders and even Costco. A lot of demand.

mary rosenblum

It sounds like a very vital field, and a good one for new writers.

 

How has your faith played a role in your writing?

Nick Harrison

It really has driven my writing. One of my editors (as you know I write too, not just edit) advised me to write from my passion. That was good advice.

 

A Christian writer must write from their heart. But skillfully. All emotion won't carry a poorly written manuscript.

mary rosenblum

Can too much passion get in the way of a strong story?

Nick Harrison

Not if you're a good writer. But even so, the passion must come through in the first draft. If there is a problem with too much passion, it can come out during the later drafts.

 

And that reminds me. Another mistake is that writers assume they're finished after only one or two drafts. Not so. Most good writing must go through many drafts

 

before it's ready for submittal. Another good writing book that makes this point is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

imhopeful

Are Christian thrillers still big?

Nick Harrison

Yes, but again they must be well written. By the way, another good fiction writer these days is Dee Henderson. Try her books. They're published by Multnomah.

tigger

When submitting a book proposal, should you mention your Christian or secular magazine credits?

Nick Harrison

Mention all your credits unless there are too many.

mary rosenblum

What are the publishing contracts like? What rights do you generally buy?

Nick Harrison

They're pretty standard . We buy book rights and return them to the writer when the book goes out of print. We will help

 

negotiate any other rights, such as film rights and so on. Royalties escalate with sales. The more a book sells, the higher the percentage goes.

mary rosenblum

What about foreign sales? Is there any overseas market for this type of book?

Nick Harrison

Oh yes indeed. Especially at Harvest House. We have a wonderful sales guy who represents our books to foreign markets and they do very well in many countries.

mary rosenblum

Interesting. Which countries in particular are buyers?

Nick Harrison

Well, of course the English speaking countries. UK, New Zealand, Australia. But also many Asian countries. We're doing well in South Africa.

jared

Do you see any drawbacks with being identified as a 'Christian writer'?

Nick Harrison

Well, it depends on your goal as a writer. But generally no. John Grisham's first bestseller was published by a CBA publisher.

 

It didn't seem to hurt him.

mary rosenblum

No kidding!

kaye

What about a story of tragedy, lived through with faith but not with a fairy tale ending but one that shows how the heroines faith has grown with the message that all things can be endured with faith and God's blessings?

Nick Harrison

Yes, that's fine. We don't insist on fairy tale endings. But the ending must be SATISFYING to the reader and be a natural outcome

 

of the story. When the reader finishes she should think, "Ah yes, it couldn't have ended any other way!"

tigger

I've seen a lot of books that contain four related Christian novellas by four different authors. Is this kind of writing assigned or can a writer submit a proposal for just one novella?

Nick Harrison

Not generally assigned. But if the publisher knows a writers work and is planning a collection of four novellas, he might

 

invite a writer to submit for it.

mary rosenblum

Nick, I know that you are a writer as well as an editor. Can you tell us what you have out there on the shelves, what you have coming up, and where we can find these books?

Nick Harrison

Thanks for asking. They're available at most Christian bookstores and some are at Barnes and Noble and Borders,

 

and of course Amazon.com. The four devotionals are Promises to Keep: Daily Devotions for Men Seeking Integrity,

 

His Victorious Indwelling, Magnificent Prayer, and 365 WWJD. I've also done some fiction, now out of print. I want very much to get back to fiction. Oh, and my new one will be out in March, for new dads. Survival Guide for New Dads.

mary rosenblum

What kind of fiction do you like to write?

Nick Harrison

My earlier fiction was set on the Iowa prairie in the late 19th century. I'd like to do some more of that and also a contemporary

 

novel about three men who become accountable to one another for their actions. Also I'm working on a young adult novel that I'm shopping around.

mary rosenblum

Is the YA fiction market a strong one?

Nick Harrison

Not so much in CBA, but I have hopes. Stronger in ABA (secular).

mary rosenblum

Well folks, Nick has a commitment tonight, and is going to have to leave a bit early. So if you've been saving that one question you need to ask, ask now.

 

I really appreciate your coming here.

 

I think we've all learned a lot, and your advice on getting your work noticed

 

applies to all genres in both fiction and nonfiction.

Nick Harrison

It's my pleasure. I've been a Long Ridge instructor for about three years and it's a great resource for writers.

mary rosenblum

You've been very helpful, and you have a full audience of interested people.

feliz73

You may have already answered this, how long have you been a Christian?

Nick Harrison

Since 1969. I became a Christian in college through Campus Crusade for Christ,

 

and I lived in a Christian commune in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury at the height of the hippie movement. That's an

 

experience I'd love to write about someday!

kaye

Thank you for a informative and interesting forum

janp

Thank you, Nick. We've all picked up a little something during your visit.

Nick Harrison

My pleasure.

mary rosenblum

Thank you indeed, Nick! I hope you can join us again, some time!

Nick Harrison

Anytime.

mary rosenblum

Good night, and I hope you're not too late.

Nick Harrison

No I won't be. Goodnight all.

mary rosenblum

I will certainly ask Nick to come talk to us again.

 

He offered a very good insight into the Christian publishing world.

 

Good night all! I'll see you on Friday!

 

 

 

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