Guest Nick Harrison has done it all: librarian, bookstore owner, editor, writer, and agent. And through it all, he’s learned so much about what it takes to succeed, not just in publishing, but in being obedient to the God who asked him to write. Listen in as he shares keys to understanding God’s purposes in your writing.
About Nick Harrison
Nick Harrison is a literary agent with WordServe Literary and the author of more than a dozen books. Nick graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in English and a minor in journalism. For fifteen years Nick served as a senior editor at Harvest House Publishers, acquiring both fiction and non-fiction. You can find out more about Nick at his website is nickharrisonbooks.com.
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Erin: Welcome everybody. Welcome to the deep. I’m glad you’re here with us today. We have a guest and we’ll let Karen introduce him.
Karen: Nick Harris! I’ve known him for lo these many years. He’s worked in the book industry for more than 30 years. He’s an old man, like we’re old ladies.
Erin: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Are you calling me old?
Karen: He’s owned or managed both Christian and children’s bookstores. He’s written articles for several prominent publications, and he’s authored 10 books, including Magnificent Prayer, which I love, and Power in the Promises: Praying God’s Word to Change Your Life. For 15 years, he served as senior editor at Harvest House Publishers, where he worked with several well-known fiction and nonfiction authors. Now he’s a literary agent with Wordserve Literary.
He’s a popular speaker and teacher at writer’s conferences where I love to meet him when we’re together at the conferences. He loves to discover promising new writers. He and his wife, Beverly, and avid quilter live in Oregon. Yay, Oregon! And they’re the parents of three adult daughters and grandparents of two boys and two girls.
Nick, welcome. Welcome to the deep.
Nick: Oh, thanks. It’s great to be here.
Erin: Yes, and let me just say, if you guys have never met Nick personally, he’s just one of my favorite people. He’s just the sweetest man ever. If you’re ever at a conference and you just need a father figure who’s going to be sweet and kind, find Nick.
Erin: All right. So, Nick, our first question for you: What does the deep mean to you?
Nick: Well, I love that word. Especially because the way I interpret it is deep writers from the past, like even a hundred years ago, have had such an effect on my own spiritual life. One of my goals as a writer is to take some of the deep truths, just to go deeper than what most people are doing, and try to translate Andrew Murray, Hannah Whitall Smith, etc., Take what they said for their generation and make it fresh and new for our present generation.
Because if you just tell somebody, “I’m writing a book that’s really deep,” it scares them off. That’s not something you want to do. But if you present the deep truths in a way that people can understand how that will change their life, then you’re on to something.
So that’s my goal when I think about writing from the deep. Writing from the deep that I’ve received from some of the people I mentioned and many others. You should see my library of some of the deep writers of the past, many of whom I honestly wonder if they could be published today. So that what it means to me.
Erin: Wow. I love it. Karen and I were just talking about Charles Spurgeon because in our reading from Streams in the Desert he was in there, and we were talking about that. Deep thinkers and deep writers.
Nick: Yeah, he’s great. One reason I don’t use him when I say he might not be able to be published today is that he had the P-word: he had the platform.
Nick: Even back then platform was an issue. So much of what he accomplished was because of his tremendous popularity in his church and in England. So he had the platform.
Nowadays, some of the writers that don’t have the platform, I wonder, you know, how they’ll make it. When I do go to conferences, one of my most popular workshops is what to do when you don’t have a platform and that’s getting increasingly hard to teach, but there are still ways.
God makes a way when he’s in it. When he’s compelling writers to write what he’s put on their heart, there’ll be a way.God makes a way when he's in it. When he's compelling writers to write what he's put on their heart, there'll be a way. #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet
Karen: I have a good friend I saw on Facebook who was dealing with discouragement. “Sometimes this publishing gig is hard,” she’d said. I thought, the thing we always need to keep our focus on is the fact that if God has given us this task to write, he’ll prepare the way and he’ll accomplish what he wants to accomplish, whether that means getting published or not.
He’ll accomplish his purposes in what we do in obedience to what he’s given us to do. It is hard, and it’s crushing, and it can take you out with your ego, but if you keep your focus on the master, then it means that what you need to be careful about and focused on is being obedient, and that’s pretty much the extent of your responsibility there.
Nick: Yes. And you know, when you mentioned the word focus, it reminded me that some writers are all over the map with what they want to write. To be focused as a writer is a big help. A lot of people cringe at the idea of having a mission statement for their writing, but, you know, a while back, I just thought, “Well now, who do I write to? Who’s my audience?”
At first I thought, “Well, okay, I know it’s hurting Christians. I write for hurting Christians.” Then God reminded me: Wait a minute. He edited me. He said, “No, you write for hurting people.” So that’s my focus. I think being a writer with focus helps you stay on the track. At least you know where you’re going.
Erin: Let’s dig a little deeper into that, Nick. You personally, because here you are, you’re an editor, you’ve worked at bookstores and that kind of thing, but you’re also a writer. What has driven you personally? What has called you personally to write.
Nick: Well, like so many writers, I can go back to my childhood. I remember at age eight, I wrote my first short story. Very unpublishable.
Then in fifth grade, a bunch of friends and I got together, and we all decided that we were going to write a book. So we each wrote a chapter. Of course now they’d have to flow together…it was awful.
In high school, I continued to prefer English classes to some of the other classes I took. Especially math and science classes.
Nick: In college, one of my first jobs was in the county library. I worked for the library as I worked my way through college. I stayed with that for quite a while after I graduated and into married life. Then I started working for Zondervan Family Bookstores. That was one more than forty years ago. So it’s just been a chain of events.
I feel like in retrospect, when I look at what God has done, it’s sort of amazing to me how open doors happened when I would not have expected them. Many times when I prayed for a specific thing to happen, it didn’t happen. I would be discouraged. “Where are you, God? Why aren’t you answering a prayer?”
Then six months later, unexpectedly, an opportunity would arise that just blew me away. It’s sort of been that way for most of my life. Even my wonderful years at Harvest House came about not because I applied for a job there, but because there was an opening and Terry Glaspey, good old Terry, asked me if I’d be interested in applying. It was just out of the blue.
Nick: God opens doors. We just have to believe that if we’re going to pursue writing. We have to believe that God sees the future. He uses the past. And don’t be discouraged if the present doesn’t look as glowing as you wish it did.
Karen: I was just telling Erin that I was working on something and a quote that Francine Rivers said, that I’m sure she got from another source because that quote itself has been around for a long time, the quote is: don’t doubt in the darkness, what God has done in the light.
We’re like my dogs. My husband was just talking to my dogs. He had just fed them. They had had their breakfast, and they’re right over trying to convince him that he didn’t feed them, that they are starving to death.
Our other little dog brought the ball to him to play with them while I’d been here in the office. He said, “I played with you for a half hour. Are you kidding me?”
I looked at him and said, “Yeah, but what have you done for me now?”
Too many of us are like that with God. “Okay. Yes. You’ve opened all these doors, but what are you going to do for me now, God?”
Erin: I love though the idea of the patience for the six months. I think it’s really easy to give up if you don’t see what you want to see in the next day or the next week. I think about, even in the Bible, there was a point in time where Jeremiah the prophet was praying to God and saying, “Here’s all these exiles, after the governor gets executed, and they want to go to Egypt. But they asked me to ask you, should we be going to Egypt? Should we be fleeing basically from the Babylonians coming for repercussion?”
It takes 10 days for that answer. And you have to be like, well, God knew the answer right away, but why didn’t he tell him?
Well, because he’s God. And because that answer was supposed to come in 10 days, for whatever reason.
I think it’s easy to question God’s timing and God’s purposes in that. And really, he just wants us to be faithful and to wait expectantly.
Karen: You know, Erin, you went through that yourself in looking for your home there in Kansas City.
Erin: Yes. Looking and looking and waiting and waiting and feeling like, “Why is this taking so long?” Feeling like, “Why doesn’t this seem like the right house? What is going on?” And wondering if there was a right house. Wondering if we’re being too picky. And yet there was something in my spirit that just…we just couldn’t bid on certain houses and on other ones that we were close on, there was already three other bids. So it’s like, “Well, that went away.”
And now, this particular house that we ended up with has had its challenges, but oh my goodness. It’s right here in nature. I tell Alan, my husband, I keep telling him, “I can’t believe I get to live here.” So it was months.
And by the way, we were supposed to move months earlier. We were supposed to…we had a different house and it all fell through when our home sale in Oklahoma fell through.
So you wonder, you know, that was quite the hardship. And you think God isn’t leading you. But he is. Even through difficult, difficult circumstances.
I’m much happier in this house than I would have been in the house that we thought we needed to buy because we thought our house was sold. But unbeknownst to us, God knew that it was going to fall through. We didn’t. So there you go. Wait and wait, and be patient.
Nick: Yep. That’s true. My next book is coming out in 2022. It’s a book that I’ve been praying about and knew was from the Lord two years ago. But it’s taken at least a year and a half to find an interested publisher and be offered a contract for it. So all that time, of course, like any writer, I was thinking, “God, did I hear you right?” So yeah. Now it’s finally coming to pass. So just be patient.
Erin: Those are the times when we question our marching orders. We get these marching orders, and then if we don’t hear this constant reinforcement, we question it. When really God’s like, “I told you.”
Karen: Don and I, for a long time, our mantra was: God’s in control. I don’t get it. I may not like the way that things are going, but God’s in control.
That came out of so many things pulling the rug out right from under us. So many things we thought we could rely on. It’s like, all these things that we knew were leading us where God wanted us, but then they wouldn’t work out the way that we wanted them to.
I’ve come to the place now, when things don’t work out, Erin would call me and say, “You’re not going to believe this. The house sale fell through and we can’t get this house.”
I just kept saying, “God knows. God has the right place for you, and you just need to lean into him in the midst of it.”
Nick: Yep. Amen.
Erin: Nick, what do you think, I mean, as a former editor for the publishing company for so long and as an agent now, we’ve already kind of talked about some advice, but what other specific advice might you have for writers? I would want to know both spiritually and professionally, so you can start with one or the other. This is obviously a difficult publishing climate. So, what would you want to say to writers right now?
Nick: To be successful as a writer, it seems like there are three things you have to do. You have to have good ideas for books that will meet the needs of people. You have to be able to promote that book. And you have to have writing ability. Oftentimes writers may have one or two of these things going for them, but they lack the third, whatever it is.
For me, and looking at manuscripts, the hardest one of the three, I think, is actually being a really good writer. That takes practice. For me, it took classes, even though in college, I majored in English. I minored in journalism. I learned how to write economically through my journalism classes.
In my twenties and thirties, I would take just single classes from adult ed or at the community college. Just learning over and over again. Every month, reading The Writer or Writer’s Digest, just immersing myself in trying to become a better writer.
I think of the three that I mentioned, if a person can concentrate on their writing, always…you know, I’m in my seventies. I know that I will be trying to perfect my writing until my dying day. It’s something that you never have arrived at. You just keep going at it.
If marketing is your weak point, and that is my weak point, you just do what you know to do. There’s always a next step, and I believe God reveals the next step. The next thing you’re supposed to do.
If you’re really called to be a writer, I think getting great ideas for books is something that will almost come naturally. One of the quotes I use in my workshops at conferences is the Wayne Gretzky quote. He was a great hockey player. Somebody asked him why he was so successful. He said, “Well, other hockey players go where the puck is. I go where the puck is going next.”
I think if writers can visualize a year or two ahead, what’s happening that will be impacting people a year or two from now, that’s ideal. If a writer two years ago could say, “Hmm, I wonder what would happen if there were a pandemic to come along” or, you know, just whatever.
The ideas are out there. If you’re going to be a writer, be a catcher of ideas.The ideas are out there. If you're going to be a writer, be a catcher of ideas. #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet
Not every idea will be one that has your name on it, but a lot of them will. Those are the ones you need to follow up on and say, “Can I write this? Is there a market for this?” And then go for it.
Don’t be discouraged if you get some nos along the way. Be willing to pull the plug on the idea if you come to the place where you say, “I’m losing my interest in this.” Or, “I can see that the public is not going to be looking for this in the next year or two.” Don’t be discouraged when you have to cut loose some ideas and go to the next one.
I have a list on my computer of fifty-four book ideas. If I get to do five of them before I leave the planet, I’ll be happy. Those ideas, almost every month I shift. Idea number five, I think, “Oh gosh, that’s really timely. I’m going to move that up to number two.” All the time I’m working on the proposals for the ones that are, say, on my top five or 10.
Sometimes something will happen and then I’ll say, “Oh man, that’s a lousy idea after all.” And it’ll go from number five to number 54 really quick. But just trying to be proactive as a writer.
A lot of people who don’t succeed as writers do it as a hobby. Maybe that’ll work for you, but I think it lessens your chances. You really need to think of your writing as your calling. As an assignment from God. As your mission from God and be serious about it. Plow ahead and do what’s necessary. Improve your writing craft, learn marketing skills, and go to conferences when they start up again.
Nowadays, there are conferences that are online mostly, but there are still good Christian writers’ conferences to be had. Listen to podcasts, like Write from the Deep. And I encourage writers to check out the blogs of agents and other successful writers and editors. Immerse yourself in the industry. Know what’s out there. Those are all the things that I think are ingredients for success as a writer.
Karen: So how about spiritually?
Nick: Spiritually, that’s sort of the key. I think you’ve gotta be called. You’ve got to know and be sensitive. Let me give you an example. The book I’m working on now is a devotional for Christians in recovery from substance abuse or whatever. It’s like my One-Minute Prayers for Those with Cancer. It’s a book that I wish there was no market for, but unfortunately there’s a huge market for it. Let me tell you briefly how that began.
I had been at OCW––Oregon Christian Writers Conference. It’s in Portland. On my way home, I stopped to see my daughter who lives in Portland. We went to Starbucks. It was a walkup Starbucks. And the fellow in front of me was a young man in his early twenties. He was obviously on some drug. He made his order and then he turned around to me, and he handed me his Starbucks gift card.
He said, “Here, do you want this? It’s got a couple of dollars left on it?” I thanked him and said, “No, you go ahead. Use it next time you’re here.”
He said, “No, if you don’t take it, I’m going to throw it away.” So I took it and thanked him. It was at that moment that I just felt such a well of compassion for this young man.
Within the next 48 hours, there were two or three other instances where I came across somebody who obviously was under the influence of some sort of substance. There was some substance abuse in their life.
Putting two and two together, and combining it with this compassion that I felt for that young man, I thought, “How can these people be helped? How can God help these people? God, would you let me try to write a book on that?” Out of that has come the proposal and now the offer from Tyndale house, so I’m doing it. It’s like a year and a half later, two years later, and I’m excited about it.
As far as the spiritual aspect of it, I pray now for those future readers of that book. I still pray for the readers of the One-Minute Prayers for Those with Cancer every day. I try to pray for my readers, wherever they are, that God would bless them.
I just posted on Facebook yesterday: One-Minute Prayers When You Need a Miracle. A lady had sent into my publisher Harvest House that a nurse had given her that book when her husband was in the hospital for a heart condition. Unfortunately he passed away just last Sunday, but she was so blessed by the book that she ordered twelve more copies.
They forwarded that message to me and it’s like, “Thank you, Lord.” It’s validation. It’s confirmation. It’s motivation to write more and just to believe God for greater impact. I’m not a household name, and I never will be, but God seems to be able to cover that. To make sure that the right people get my books.
That’s my prayer daily, too, is that my books would get into the hands of people that really need them, and their lives would be changed because of them.
Erin: I love that.
Karen: That’s having the right motivation. That’s having the motivation of writing to serve and to help and to bless, rather than writing with the motivation of “I’m going to make lots of money at this.”
Karen: Because that doesn’t happen that often in publishing. But yeah, that’s powerful.
Erin: It’s nice because this is something that writers can do every day, even if they’re not published yet. You can pray for future readers. You can pray for people you want to reach. You can pray for, maybe you have seven books out there, you can pray for people who are getting those books. I think it keeps you connected with your passion for people. It keeps you connected to the whole point.
I want to circle back just for a minute and say I like what you said, Nick, that it’s okay to also give up ideas. Maybe we had a passion for a particular idea, and that doesn’t mean that that’s the book that has to be your path to publication or even published at all.
You can be like, “You know what? I’ve kind of lost my passion for that particular topic.” But some people may feel a little bit trapped like that. Like, “Oh no, I have to keep doing this book because that’s what God called me to.” Well, maybe that was just how you got into writing. Maybe that was just the idea that sparked you. So it’s okay. If you’ve prayed about it, it’s okay to let go of some of those ideas and move on to something else that might be a new passion. I love that freedom that you give to writers to do that.
Nick: Well, I do. But you know, honestly, when I cut loose of an idea, I don’t totally cut loose. What I do is I move it to the bottom of the list. It becomes number fifty-four, because I’ve discovered that two or three years later something might happen either within me or circumstantially in the world. Then I think, “Wait a minute, maybe it’s time to give that another go.”
So I never really fully kill off an idea, but I just say this is on the back burner for now. Maybe forever it’ll be on the back burner, but be willing to just put it aside for now. There have been a few times where God has told me, “No. You’re not going to write that book. It’s not going to happen.” So I have to be obedient to that. No matter how much I may want to, I just know that that’s not for me.
Karen: Well, Nick, it’s been such a delight to have you here with us, and clearly you’ve got more to say, so clearly we need to have you come visit us again some time. Do you have any final words of wisdom or encouragement for our listeners today?
Nick: I guess I would just say, be persistent in prayer and persistent in your writing. Be willing to say, “God, if you do not want me to be a writer, make that plain,” just as if you were praying, “God, if you want me to be a writer, make that plain.”
I think there are people who would like to write, but honestly, God may have something else for them to do. Just be very confident of your assignment from God.
If it is writing, praise the Lord and just do the things that you know to do. Go to online conferences or in person conferences, when they happen. Read the blogs. Improve your craft the best way you can, either by taking local classes, reading books, etc. I hope aspiring writers or even successful writers have––you probably both do––at least a bookshelf full of your favorite writing books.
Nick: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, or Stephen King’s On Writing. They’re just some excellent resources out there. Fall in love with your assignment from God if you’re called to be a writer, because it’s a great, great calling.
Karen: Amen. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much.
Erin: Thanks, Nick.
Nick: Happy to do it. I enjoyed it very much.
Books by Nick Harrison mentioned on the podcast
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