Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview with Editor Nick Harrison

I'm delighted to have Mr. Nick Harrison in our blog here today. Mr. Harrison is an editor at Harvest House Publishers and also a published author.

Welcome Mr. Harrison to the Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood!

Q: How you did you get your break in publishing?

A: I’ve always wanted to write. In college I majored in English and minored in Journalism. I eventually went into bookselling and during slow times, wrote articles. When I grew too fast, I lost my bookstores and had to start over. Amazingly, I got my first contract for a book easily. The second followed. Subsequent contracts have been harder to get.

Q: Please tell us about Harvest House Publishers. What are your responsibilities there?

A: I’m one of five senior editors at Harvest House—a mid-sized Christian publisher. I acquire new books and edit those assigned to me. Our website is at

Q: What genres do you acquire?

A: Both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, historical romance is hot right now. Contemporary fiction is pretty slow for us. We tried fantasy and that didn’t work for us, I’m sorry to say.

Q: Is there anything in particular you are looking for at the moment?

A: I’d like to see some fiction with quilting as a backdrop. Fiction that has warm and fuzzies associated with it.

Q: What are your top three authors of all time?

A: Barbara Pym, Sherwood Anderson, Willa Cather.

Q: What are your top three books?

A: A Glass of Blessings by Pym, Winesburg, Ohio by Anderson, and probably My Antonia by Cather.

Q: Do you accept unagented writers’ submissions?

A: Yes, but it’s best to meet us at a writer’s conference for that to happen.

Q: What is the average time it takes you to respond to a submission?

A: A month.

Q: What percentage of the submissions that you receive do you end up buying?

A: One percent, perhaps.

Q: What is the most common mistake you find in manuscripts? What kinds of problems are deal-breakers for you?

A: Poor writing and submitting to the wrong publisher are the two biggest mistakes. Authors who perceive as being unteachable would be deal-breakers.

Q: Have you ever acquired a book from someone you met at a conference?

A: Oh yes, several times.

Q: Please tell us what the day in the life of an editor is like.

A: Most of my time is spent editing manuscripts assigned to me. The rest of the time is reviewing manuscripts and book proposals.

Q: Could you take us through the process of acquiring a book? How many people are involved in the final decision?

A: Really only five. These five people are on the publisher’s committee and they make the ultimate decision as whether or not to publish a book. I don’t have a vote. The five are the president of the company, the head of sales, the head of marketing, the head of editorial, and our acquisitions director.

Q: How much weight does the personal taste of an editor have in the decision of acquiring a book?

A: Very little. What matters is if the book will match the personal tastes of our readers.

Q: How much marketing/self promotion does Harvest House expect from a writer aside from internet interviews/blogs?

A: When the book is new (front list), it gets some attention from our marketing department. But the following season, it’s backlist and the burden falls to the author, although we still do what we can in booking radio or TV appearances.

Q: Is it true that it is now harder for new writers to sell fiction? In your experience, do authors more often than not exceed their advances with debut novels?

A: I don’t think that’s necessarily true. If a new writer is a good writer, their fiction should sell to a publisher and then to the public. That’s provided they have the right publisher. Some good fiction doesn’t sell because the publisher isn’t able to reach the readers for that book. Publishers are distinctive in that way. They don’t all have the same readership.

Q: I understand you write a lot of non-fiction. Have you ever written or considered writing fiction? If so, what genre appeals to you?

A: Oh yes. I wrote two historical novels years ago. I may try again. My problem is that I come home from working on other people’s manuscripts and the last I want to do is sit in front a computer working on yet another one….even though it’s mine.

Q: As a writer, it must be handy to also be a professional editor, but how much does your inner critic prevent you from letting your creative side loose?

A: I try not to listen to my inner critic during the first draft. After the thing is down on paper, then I turn him loose.

Q: Finally, what advice do you give new writers on how to get published? Do you think nowadays it is indispensable for a writer to have an agent?

A: It’s not indispensable, but increasingly important. My advice is always have project underway, attend conferences, read the writing magazines, know the market, and persist.

Thank you, Mr. Harrison!

For more information and advice from Nick Harrison, please visit his blog:


  1. Thanks for the great interview, Lorena! His advice to attend conferences goes against the general advice I hear about conferences. Which is to avoid them, unless you are independently wealthy and have a lot of spare time on your hands. I'd be curious what others have to say on that subject. How can an agent and author really connect in any other way than *writing?* I would think idea-pitching would be so much less useful to an agent than simply reading a snippet of the author's work.

    But I know nothing about fiction publishing, being a newbie.

    "Fiction that has warm and fuzzies associated with it." This surprises me, since fiction is inherently about conflict. "Happy families are all alike" and that. Maybe this is specific to the Christian Fiction genre? I can see how that might be fuzzier.

  2. I enjoyed this interview, Lorena. I've heard many agents say that it doesn't matter what you pitch to them at a conference (meaning, it doesn't matter what you're really saying to them) because they only care about your idea and how you write it on the page. I guess that's one of the reasons I feel so conflicted about conferences. Agents and editors say one thing on their websites but something completely different at conferences.

    As to the "warm and fuzzies" Stephanie mentioned, yes, that is one thing you'll definitely find in Christian Fiction. I suppose that's why I struggle when it comes to reading it. There are so many boundaries when it comes to conflict that a writer seems restricted in what he/she can and cannot use. I understand the genre is there for a certain reason, but as a reader, when I can feel the rules in a genre as I read, then I know that the creativity is somewhat stifled and it brings an unbelievability to the storyline.

    Thanks to Mr. Harrison for a thorough interview!

  3. A excellent interview. It´s interesting to hear from the editor´s point of view, and it´s refreshing to know that there are still publishing houses that take unagented manuscripts. I am curious to know why Fantasy didn't work.

  4. Great interview. It was interesting to read an editor's opinion.

  5. Thanks for the advice, Nick Harrison.

  6. Thanks for the heads-up on your interview here, Lorena! I appreciated getting an inside view of how things work at Harvest House. Sounds very similar to the way things work at Bethany House (my publisher). I think that "one percent" statistic can be a little disheartening to authors trying to break in, but I also think that if the story is well-written, compelling, and fits a market need, it will get noticed eventually. (I hope I'm not just being optomistic!)

  7. Great thoughts from Nick! He is one of my favorite teachers of conference classes.

  8. Great interview - thanks for sharing!

  9. Stephanie, when I think of warm and fuzzies, I think of novels with happy endings (maybe stories about friendship, mothers and daughters, or even romance?) But I'm not sure what he meant exactly.

    Yes, Jody, one percent is somewhat disheartening, but I was encouraged by the fact that Mr. Harrison has acquired several books from writers he met at conferences (I was under the impression that this was a rare occurrence.)

    Thank you all for stopping by and commenting, and I'm glad you enjoyed the interview!

  10. What a great interview! I would love to hear one of his conference classes.

  11. Interesting interview - you asked a lot of great questions! I definitely think it is harder now to get published than it used to be... I mean look what he said, they accept maybe ONE percent of the submissions they receive!

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by my blog and "loving" my design!

    PS. How close is this blog to 100 followers?!

  12. Clarissa and Rachel, thank you for reading. Please continue to visit us. Rachel, one more follower and we'll hit the 100 followers-mark! I'm excited! ;)

  13. Hi all. Nick Harrison here. Just returned from our vacation and am getting caught up. More on the "warm and fuzzies", since it must have seemed confusing.

    In the general market, I think of someone like Nicholas Sparks as a "warm and fuzzy" writer. I think probably Debbie Macomber is too. They aren't all about being "happy" necessarily, but they appeal to a reader's emotions. That's more what I meant. I think certain backdrops lend themselves more easily to being what I'm calling a "warm and fuzzy." Quilt-themed novels, cat-themed books, lighthouses, old lovers reunited, etc. That sort of thing.

  14. That makes sense. Thanks for clarifying. I guess "How to Make an American Quilt" would fit this criteria, but I can't think of any cat-themed books (where the cat is not evil, ha!)


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