Interview Transcripts

Nick Harrison, editor and writer: The Christian Market 7/22/04



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

Hello, all, welcome to our Professional Connection Live Interview...where you get to ask the pros questions.

 

Tonight we'll be chatting with Nick Harrison.

 

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.

Nick Harrison

Hi all!

Mary Rosenblum

Nick, welcome! I'm so glad that you agreed to visit us again!

Nick Harrison

Happy to be here.

Mary Rosenblum

How about a bit of an introduction? How did you get started in the Christian market?

Nick Harrison

I was a retailer and always wanted to write. Started with queries to magazines and did quite a few articles,

 

then God opened doors for me to do some books and further opened the door for me to work at Harvest House Publishing four years ago.

Mary Rosenblum

What kinds of articles did you break in with?

Nick Harrison

Humor, mainly. One of those articles ended up in Chicken Soup for Couples years later...what a surprise.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, how cool! I have enormous respect for people who can do humor!

 

Are your book length works humor, also?

Nick Harrison

I've done less lately, but would like to do more. No my books are mainly devotionals. And two out of print novels

brooke

Nick, have you had any experience with writing or editing fiction?

Mary Rosenblum

Clearly you've written it, LOL

Nick Harrison

I prefer to edit fiction. I've discovered a couple of wonderful novelists.

Mary Rosenblum

Good for you! We need good editors. I value them enormously! And whom have you discovered?

Nick Harrison

Roxanne Henke, Susan Meissner, Raymond Reid (buy their books!)

Mary Rosenblum

Here that, all? So where can we find them? Chain bookstores? Amazon.com?

Nick Harrison

Yes, to both.

Mary Rosenblum

Good distribution!

roe

How did you come to edit their books?

Nick Harrison

I met Roxanne at a writer's conference (go!). I found Susan on First Edition, and I found Raymond over the transom (shhh...I probably shouldn't say that!)

Mary Rosenblum

Aha! See, you all? Writers CAN get published 'over the transom'! Told ya!

 

And now, before I get the questions...you'd better explain what that means!

Nick Harrison

It's a submission that comes in through the mail, unsolicited. But before you rush to do that, please know that almost all publishers

Nick Harrison

including HHP will not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Mary Rosenblum

Most publishers now require agented submissions and won't even look at an unagented ms. But a few still do.

 

What about your publishing house, Nick? Do you want agents?

Nick Harrison

We don't really care. We're very kind to our authors and most don't feel they need agents. I do appreciate though that agents have

Nick Harrison

already served as a sort of "first reader" and they're more likely to offer me good fiction.

Mary Rosenblum

Many writers I know get along fine with small publishers without an agent. Maybe you'd better explain 'unsolicited' and 'solicited' books, too.

Nick Harrison

Unsolicited means we've had no contact with you, but you send your manuscript any way. Solicited means we've asked to see your work.

Mary Rosenblum

Let me give you the question I have here about First Edition.

jean9

What do you think about "First Edition" where you have to pay to have your manuscript looked at?

Mary Rosenblum

I am not familiar with them, so I'll learn something, too. :-)

Nick Harrison

I honestly don't think most editors look at it....but I do! Every Thursday. But in over a year, I've only bought one manuscript

 

though I've asked to see probably 25 or 30.

Mary Rosenblum

This is a review service then...sort of a first reader?

Nick Harrison

First Edition is one of two online manuscript listing services (the other is The Writer's Edge). Yes, you pay a fee to have

 

a portion of your proposal listed where only editors can see it. If they like it, they'll ask for more.

Mary Rosenblum

Aha, interesting. Does this cover all genres or nonfiction only?

Nick Harrison

All genres.

Mary Rosenblum

So it sounds as if it's a gamble. It will put your work in front of editors, but perhaps not as many as could be. Is that a fair evaluation, do you think?

Nick Harrison

Yes, but some other editors DO look at it. It's just one more way to get noticed...and sometimes pays off.

Mary Rosenblum

I would say it sounds as if it might well be worth the money, if you are unpublished.

patchworkcat

How did Raymond's book slip through?

Mary Rosenblum

I'm curious, too, Nick! :-)

Nick Harrison

Well, patchworkcat, on the one hand, it was a God thing. But on the other, he was so new as a writer, he didn't know the rules.

 

He self-published his book and then sent it around to several editors. He also CALLED them on the phone (NO, NO, NO!)

 

and for some unknown reason my assistant gave me his book and I reluctantly started to read it...and I loved it! It needed work

 

so I worked with him for over a year, helping him tweak it. He was very teachable.

Mary Rosenblum

Hooey, he did EVERYTHING wrong. And folks, this is the exception that proves the rule. You can make yourself very noticed in a negative way by doing things like that.

 

But it's a GREAT story, Nick. Good for you for 'breaking the rules'!

Nick Harrison

There are many ways to be read by an editor. Be creative.

Mary Rosenblum

Let's talk about this for a bit, if you don't mind. Most of our audience are either unpublished

 

or have published only a couple of articles. How DO they bring themselves

 

to an editor's attention in a good way?

Nick Harrison

Several ways: 1. Go to at least one writer's conference a year. They're all over the place. I'm teaching at seven this year.

 

2. Look in the acknowledgments of a novel or book you loved and if the author has thanked his or her editor

 

write to them by name at their publishing house. Most mail that is addressed to an editor by name will be read.

 

3. Use First Edition and Writers Edge.

 

4. Coincidence...yes, even that. I ran into an author who recognized me at a deli about 200 miles away. She approached me

 

and I agreed to look at her work. Just pray, write, improve your craft (through Long Ridge, where I used to be an instructor, by the way).

 

I'm sure there are many other ways too. Oh, another coincidence. One author we published because her husband sat next to our president on plane and he

 

agreed to look at his wife's proposal. We ended up publishing it.

Mary Rosenblum

What should they say to that editor when they write? Politely pitch their book?

Nick Harrison

Sure. Something like, "I noticed your name in Jane Smith's novel and my writing is similar to hers. Keep it to one page

 

and just be cordial. Oh, another thing. Nowadays many publishers have their submission guidelines on their website.

Mary Rosenblum

Yes! Find them and FOLLOW them!!!!!

ejamortizer

I read in one of the writer's mags that calling for follow up after submitting a MS was important. Are you saying no to that? I think we all need to know what to do after we submit.

Nick Harrison

Only call if the guidelines say this is appropriate. I don't think most editors want calls...but some magazines may, I guess.

Mary Rosenblum

None that I know of, Nick. It's a great way to alienate most editors, actually. And you generally won't reach them unless you have their private number.

Nick Harrison

Yeah, that does surprise me...that a writer's magazine would say that.

Mary Rosenblum

Me, too. Bad advice, in my opinion.

anne shiever of ks

What if your piece of work is a self-publication and not in a manuscript form?

Nick Harrison

Anne, this year we've published two books that were originally self-published (both novels). And I'm looking at a couple more now.

 

The same rules apply. But of course if you've sold a lot of copies of your book, say that as early as you can! We like books

 

that have already proven they can sell!

Mary Rosenblum

There you go. Self publishing through something like iUniverse can work for you.

anne shiever of ks

And if the publisher is a scam...how do you know? There are thousands of publishers on the internet these days, and many call themselves "Christian publishers"

Nick Harrison

Anne, do you mean the self-publishing people? Get recommendations. For regular trade publishers, ask your local Christian bookstore manager. He'll know.

 

I don't know of anyone who has been scammed. I'm sure it happens, but I never hear of it.

Mary Rosenblum

I do know some, Nick.

 

There are quite a few websites that list scams.

Nick Harrison

Self-publishing outfits?

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, Nick, but pretending to be for pay publishers

 

with lots of 'fees'.

 

I have a link on the website:  Predators and Editors Website   Always search a publishing house's name on Google. If they are a scam, you will find the information there.

Nick Harrison

The ones I know best are Winepress and Xulon. They have websites. There are other good ones too

roe

If we send a proposal to you do we send the proposal and three chapters or do you want the whole MS since we are basically unpublished?

Mary Rosenblum

But of course, this has to be something you requested, right Nick?

 

Or do you prefer self published books to ms format?

Nick Harrison

Roe, send a query first to any other publisher or follow their guidelines. If any of you want to send something to me

 

you can e-mail me a query at nick.harrison@harvesthousepublishers.com (put the dot between my first and last names).

 

I will gone for the first two weeks in August and then playing catch up, so it may be a while till you hear back from me.

Mary Rosenblum

That's very generous, Nick. Folks, if you are going to send a query to Nick, go to Writing Craft: Nonfiction and read the article on how to write a good query letter. Send him a good strong query.

 

Don't waste his time! This is a VERY generous offer! Thanks, Nick.

Nick Harrison

Hey, I'm a writer too! I understand, really I do!

Mary Rosenblum

And you're a shining example of 'Editors are Nice People Not Monsters!' :-)

margieh

Maybe you answered this earlier but what kind of work do you get too much of and what kind of work would you like to see more of?

Nick Harrison

Well, you'd have to speak to some of those who have been rejected by me!

Mary Rosenblum

LOL

Nick Harrison

I like original stuff. No clones of what's already out there. Nothing related to Jabez, Left Behind, or The Purpose Driven Life.

Mary Rosenblum

Fiction, then?

Nick Harrison

Fiction, yes, original. No female characters named Heather, Tiffany, or Megan. No men named Rock, Biff, or Lance...

.

I think you get the point. Now, as to non-fiction

.

we really want books that address the "felt need" of a reader. We also ask what is the "take-away" value for the reader. Very important!

Mary Rosenblum

Do these tend to be personal narrative, personal experience books?

Nick Harrison

No. Those don't do well. That's why it's really much harder to break into non-fiction. You have to be a credible author

 

to tell people how to improve their marriage, overcome depression, or raise good kids. Our ability to market the nonfiction book

 

is very important. Most of us really aren't well enough known to speak authoritatively on these matters.

Mary Rosenblum

I had a question from 'Jackie', who couldn't be here tonight. She wanted to know if a book about her devout grandmother's battle with Alzheimers was something

 

that would fit the market well. Sounds as if perhaps not?

Nick Harrison

Not unless she's an UNUSUALLY gifted writer. I do get a few queries about this. Also about women dealing with...

 

post abortion issues. And depression. In fiction we get a lot of people who want to do biblical fiction, but we're not the right publisher for that.

roe

Can you please explain those terms - 'felt need' and 'take away' value?

Nick Harrison

Roe, well, for a book on overcoming depression in women--that's the felt need--a woman who has depression. And her

 

take away value is gaining the ability to overcome her depression. We sell a LOT of books in what's called the "rack market.

 

These are books you see in grocery stores and the like. They appeal to a lot of people. That's why the felt need should

 

be one that will relate to a lot of people. We had an author propose a book for grandparents who are raising their

 

grandkids...but that's too small a market, even though there are a lot of grandparents in that position.

paja

Do devotional books require a "credible author" with a platform?

Nick Harrison

Ha! Oh, you've touched a nerve. I just got word that two of my four devotionals are going out of print...no doubt for that very reason!

 

However, the other two have done well. The reason is that the first was tied to the Promise Keepers movement somewhat

 

and the second related to the WWJD craze of a few years ago. The publishers were able to promote those without me being a "name”

 

because of the timeliness. But the other two are MUCH better devotionals, but not trendy enough. And no one knows who I am, so...yes,

 

it does help to either be known or to write a devotional that's trendy.

paja

I've done devotions for denominational quarterlies. What would it take to get an editor to review a devotional book?

Nick Harrison

Paja, does your denomination publish books? Many do. They would be your best bet. Otherwise, the devotions must be

 

as I say somewhat trendy or tied to something really focused like prayer or dieting or being a mother...something like that.

kayo

I love Christian mysteries (Blackstock, Henderson); are you interested in this genre?

Nick Harrison

Kayo, yes! They're hard to do though. Read our mysteries by Mindy Stearns Clark and you'll see what we like.

dluke

What qualifies one as credible?

roe

And how do we become known?

Nick Harrison

Dluke, we've done books by authorities like psychologists who can write well. One man deals with many patients who have

 

problems communicating with his or her spouse. There's a huge market for that kind of book and his profession lends

 

itself to him writing a good book with lots of examples. His first book for us is "Men Just Don't Get It...But They Can." You can surely see the market potential there!

Mary Rosenblum

Is there any way to gain credibility without having a PhD, or some other similar credential?

Nick Harrison

You might start by doing articles on your specialty, getting known. It depends on the subject, actually.

 

Articles. Speaking engagements. Many of our writers speak as much as they can to groups. Some have been able

 

to become affiliated with large ministries to moms or wives or whatever. Learn to promote your books!

margieh

Is there a market for Christian SF or Fantasy that isn't apocalyptic?

Nick Harrison

Margieh, yes, but it's very hard to write these well. Most attempts I see fail. One more thing about non-fiction. WRITE WELL! I have more than once championed a book by a person who wasn’t' known but whose writing was so good I desperately wanted us to publish their work. And when we can't, I'll refer the author to another publisher that I think may like their work.

jean9

How is the market for young adult fiction/coming of age books about Christian teens dealing with temptation?

Nick Harrison

Jean9, Tyndale, W, and Zondervan all have YA lines. Sadly we don't yet...although this is a growing area. I saw today that Kmart

 

is building up a large YA section of books in all their stores.

roe

Do you have a word limit for novels?

Nick Harrison

No, roe. By the way, before you all send me emails tomorrow, please visit our website and see what we publish.   Harvest House Publishers

anne shiever of ks

What if you are known as an artist/author in your own state, and a featured poet in England....would that help with the letter to the editor?

Nick Harrison

Anne, marginally. Poetry is hard to sell. But just tell what you have to tell in your letter. It may help.

marly

What novels are currently popular in the Christian industry?

Nick Harrison

Marly, of course the Left Behind books, authors Dee Henderson, Francine Rivers, our own Roxanne Henke, Lori Wick. Browse at your local bookstore.

 

Even the big secular chains have huge selections of bestselling Christian fiction

ccollier

Nick, do you publish many Bible Prophecy books?

Nick Harrison

Tons, ccollier. But, praise God, I'm not the editor for those! And this again is an area where you need to have some credentials.

 

Check our website to see some of the books we do with LaHaye, Randy Price, and others.

kayo

Would you say the Christian fiction market is growing? Or just gaining wider attention?

Nick Harrison

Both. The problem with the growth is that we see so much that's just not ready. We can now afford to be very choosey

 

about the fiction we publish. But yes, we're in Costco, Target, Wal-Mart, etc. so it is certainly getting wider attention.

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, you really are getting excellent distribution!

Nick Harrison

Yes, we are.

rtnmi

What are the top three criteria you examine for submission?

Nick Harrison

We're about the sixth or seventh largest Christian publisher.

Mary Rosenblum

WOW Nick. I'm impressed.

Nick Harrison

Hmmm. Well, for fiction, it's the first page or two. How well does the author usher me into the story. I want character-driven fiction

 

not message-driven or plot-driven fiction...although those do get published in our market. Generally they're weaker books in my opinion.

 

For non fiction, it's writing ability, the market for the book, and the promotability of the author.

shannon

Did HH publish a rebuttal to DaVinci Code?

Nick Harrison

Yes, and it's selling very well, Shannon. I think it's the best because it's shorter and less expensive than the others...and yet very thorough.

 

Richard Abanes is a fine, fine writer.

barbe

Nick, what's the best use of a 15-minute appointment with publishers/editors at a writers' conference?

Nick Harrison

Wow, that's hard, barbe. I look for several things: Is this writer talented? If they're not yet top notch, do they have that potential?

 

Is there a market for their book? And finally a very subjective appraisal. Can I work with this writer? I guess for ME the best thing

 

is for me to get to know you during that time and discuss your idea. Oh, that reminds me....it's a strike against you (usually)

 

if you tell an editor you have an idea for this one book you plan to write and then you want to go back to being whatever it is you do.

 

We want writers who we can nurture over the next several years if necessary. You need to have a long range plan for your writing.

 

Not just one book. Think of this as your writing CAREER. Not just selling one book. You want a long term relationship with an editor...and that's what we want too.

marly

What do you do at a writers conference?

Nick Harrison

I teach workshops and meet with writers. I teach both fiction and non-fiction, but prefer the former.

 

For those who may live in the northwest, the Oregon Christian Writers Conference is up next. It's in the first week of August

 

and Francine Rivers is the keynoter. Lots of editors there. I think there's an OCW website if you're interested. Oregon Christian Writers 

Mary Rosenblum

Gosh, Nick, where is it, Portland? I'll buy you lunch!

Nick Harrison

It's in Canby.

Mary Rosenblum

I've had a couple of business questions from the audience. Do you pay an advance

 

and what rights do you buy?

Nick Harrison

Yes, it's pretty standard. We buy most rights, but it's negotiable. One author had an in with a movie producer and wanted to retain the movie rights...and that was no problem.

Mary Rosenblum

Foreign rights? Do you publish outside the country at all?

Nick Harrison

Oh yes. We sell in many countries. So yes we would normally want foreign rights.

Mary Rosenblum

Very nice. You folks are doing publishing well! Clearly you're one of the better small publishing houses.

Nick Harrison

Thank you. Come to Eugene sometime and I'll buy YOU lunch.

Mary Rosenblum

The compliment is quite sincere. I know a number of small press publishers. Your success is unusual and you are clearly doing things right. You get my applause.

tkat_2

What do you mean about seeing so much that is not ready? I don't understand.

Nick Harrison

Well, tkat_2, one of my favorite quotes is that good books aren't written, they're REwritten. That means that a good book will go through several, if not many drafts.

 

Many writers are, alas, sending out first or second drafts of their material. And that is rarely a good idea.

Mary Rosenblum

NO KIDDING

Nick Harrison

But another word on drafts. I have a writer right now that shows promise but is truly not ready. I will make suggestions on how

 

he can improve if he keeps at it. Many writers get discouraged if they aren't published right away. They don't want to put in

 

the extra hours and days and weeks that will spell the difference between rejection and acceptance.

write4him

I would like to know what you look for in an unknown author.

Mary Rosenblum

Nick, I know you sort of covered this, but I think it bears repeating, because your advice is sound for ANY submission to ANY editor.

Nick Harrison

Honestly, I think I'm a little different. I like to see if there's a sort of subjective connection with the writer. Do I "get" what he or she

 

wants to do with their writing? Can I help? Or will this waste time for both of us? Of course, I must also determine if the actual material

 

is right for HHP. If not, I really can't spend my time at work helping for a project we'd never publish. You really need to do your market research.

 

Who are the publishers publishing the kind of books you're writing. Or magazines. Or whatever. I think that fully 40% of writing

 

isn't writing at all, but doing all the other stuff: the research, the querying, the trips to the post office...all those things. I hate them

 

but I must do them if I want to be published.

Mary Rosenblum

Hear hear!

 

I got a lot of questions about how to find an agent, how to find the link for the 'scam' website and so forth. For those of you looking for agents.

 

do visit the Association of Author's Representatives homepage. They teach you all you need to know and provide contact info for agent members.  Association of Authors Representatives

Nick Harrison

And agents always show up at the writer's conferences. You really MUST go to at least one writer's conference a year.  Also check Sally Stuart's Market Guide for Christian Writers. I'm sure it's on Amazon. Title may be off, so check under her name as author.

Mary Rosenblum

Nick, before we run out of time...

 

I want to ask you to talk a bit about the books you work on and what it means to YOU, creatively, as an editor

 

to work with an author. I don't think most new writers

 

realize that the editor invests himself/herself in the process, too, that they're not the English teacher with a red pen.

 

Your thoughts?

Nick Harrison

Well, I totally enjoy working with writers. And for the most part they enjoy working with me. But it doesn't always work.

 

We had one novelist who I just couldn't connect with and I'm having someone else edit this author's next book. And that's fine.

 

I do use a red pen and mark up your manuscripts, but hopefully to make them better. I will say that I enjoy this so much

 

that it has caused me to put my own writing on the back burner. I just come home from editing someone else's work and.

 

I'm pretty drained. But that's how much I enjoy it! (Usually).

paja

What is the market for books of short stories? Should they be themed or is unthemed better?

Mary Rosenblum

Do you publish story collections, Nick?

Nick Harrison

In our market there is really no book market I know of for short stories. Perhaps the magazines. And some publishers do

 

some anthologies of two or three novellas. But I honestly don't know of a book market for short stories in the Christian market.

Mary Rosenblum

The short story collection market is very poor in all genres that I know of

 

unless your name can sell the book.

Nick Harrison

Yes, that's true.

jean9

I am a homeschooling mom of 4 young kids. Since I really can't travel, would it make sense to stick with articles as opposed to books?

Nick Harrison

Jean, you should write what you feel most passionate about. (I hated that when an editor told it to me!). Articles would be fine...but

 

many writers don't travel far from home. My books were all written from home. If you're talking about not being able to travel

 

to a writer's conference, then you should find a good critique group...and continue of course with some Long Ridge courses.

 

Actually I had one mom tell me that she found more time to write when her kids were little than after they were grown and had left home.

 

Every writer does have to prayerfully figure out how to proceed with their writing career, given their unique circumstances.

Mary Rosenblum

And if you're not a LR student, then spend time on the website. There is a lot to learn here.

anne shiever of ks

Will you reprint your out-of-print novels?

Mary Rosenblum

Good question. Will you?

Nick Harrison

I'd love to. I have a personal "wannado" project list with more than fifty projects on it. The reprinting of those books and writing sequels is near the top of the list.

Mary Rosenblum

Good! Top is the right place for 'em!

ccollier

Are you published in any of the Focus on the Family magazines

Nick Harrison

I used to be the editor for the California insert to Focus's Citizen magazine...but no I haven't written anything for them since then (five years ago).

Mary Rosenblum

What do you have out there that you'd like to recommend...either work you've edited or your own?

Nick Harrison

For a great two-hanky novel, I want you to read "After Anne" by Roxanne Henke (and its sequels). Raymond Reid's book.

 

The Gate Seldom Found is of course a favorite, but some find it hard going. Others love it. Susan Meissner's novel, Why the Sky is Blue is great.

 

My own books are still available at Amazon.com under my name. They make great gifts!

Mary Rosenblum

I'm sure you'll sell a few after tonight, Nick. :-) The LR audiences

 

are wonderful about buying the books written by my guests! Thank you so much for

 

taking the time to answer all our questions.

Nick Harrison

I loved it.

Mary Rosenblum

You do a great job of showing us the field of Christian publishing!

 

And you offered some GREAT insights about how to break in, period.

roe

Thanks for a great interview. Hope you will come back again.

tkat_2

Thanks for coming. It was a pleasure.

Nick Harrison

And it's only the tip of the iceberg. There's so much there. For more info visit the Christian Booksellers Association website.

Mary Rosenblum

It was indeed! We'll let you go and rest your fingers, and I will certainly ask you back again. You'll never be rid of me, heheh.

write4him

Thank you Mr.Harrison.

anne shiever of ks

I thoroughly enjoyed your speaking, and it was an honor to meet you

Nick Harrison

Thanks so much.

shannon

THANK YOU, Nick! I learned a lot.

marly

Thanks a lot! You were very helpful!

Mary Rosenblum

You really are a great guest, Nick. Thanks again!

Nick Harrison

By the way, I'm working on a book on writing fiction. Next time I come I hope I'll have found a publisher for it.

 

Goodnight all!

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, great! I hope so! Keep me posted, so I can review it for the website.

 

Good night, Nick!

 

Thank you all for coming!

 

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