Spot takes over the art table

Couldn't resist this blog entry.
More Artist interviews & Book Reviews next week!

7 Things I Learned from Mary Englebreit

I recently discovered the book Mary Engelbreit: The Art And The Artist, that was first published in 1996. It is about her path into art licensing and greeting card design. She is now a successful licensor, her career spans over decades, and she was awarded "best art license of the year" by LIMA.

Mary's book is one of the more encouraging and practical books I've read in awhile. She confirmed my inherent belief that if someone tries to impose rules and prerequisites on entering this career, someone else will come along, break all the rules, and become successful. Here are some things I learned from reading her book:

1. Don't believe everything you hear.

While I'd seen her cards over the years and admired her work, after reading her book I realized I had been completely misinformed about her personal journey. I'd heard that she first got into greeting card design because she had extensive financial resources to experiment with. Boy was that wrong! In fact, it was quite the opposite.

2. Rock stars are people too.
Mary did not have resources for college, she didn't attend art school, and her husband worked as a social worker, all the while she struggled with the financial risks of trying to be an artist. In a lot of ways, she was no different than most people. She couldn't take expensive business risks. She doubted herself. She was even discouraged from being an artist by high school teachers. And she did not have thousands of dollars to lay down for a print run, just to see if something would sell.

3. Create your own show
Some stories she shared were painful, like when she bought a booth at the New York Stationery show and only had 12 cards to display. She was mortified to see all the other vendors, who had hundreds of cards. She also toted her portfolio all around New York only to be rejected by everyone she met. Other stories were heartwarming, like the day she felt sad because couldn't go to art school and have a "real" art show, so she decided on a whim to just to make her own art show happen at her job, in a retail store. All her work sold out.
4. Forgive yourself for mistakes
She had many hard knocks. She got into a bad business partnership, lost some of her art, and had emotional challenges of deciding whether being an artist was realistic.

5. You don't need to go to art school.
It was amazing for me to learn that she doesn't know how to paint, and she learned to draw simply by recopying old children's books and using colored pencils and markers. Later she developed her own imaginary characters. This made me wonder if the reason she became one of the top illustrators in the country, is because she "didn't" go to art school.

6. Draw what you like, not what you think will sell.
She emphasized how incredibly important it is for her to draw things she likes. Only later will she think about adapting the drawing to a product. She said if she instead tried to develop a design based around a product as the starting point, it was always a failure. Instead, she decided to hire other people to adapt her drawings to products, and she focused on drawing what she really loved, often things in her daily life.

7. Make new rules.
She breaks rules I'd come to accept as gospel from the licensing world. In fact, what I learned is that while it's important to trust your heart, you also need to trust your own intelligence. There are people who may try to impose their own rules on you about the "way things are" in the market place, with stores, with agents, with manufacturers, with your credentials, with demands, etc. But Mary made her own rules, not out of protest, but out of a gentle kindness towards herself.

Greeting Card Business ebooks.

You can support this blog by ordering Kate's eBooks starting at only .99 cents! 
They can be read on your kindle, ipad, ipod, cellphone, or your computer.  

Unusual Ways to Market Your Greeting Cards and 22 Places to Get Your Designs Featured A booklet on how to get your cards noticed in non-traditional ways. Everything from why you should send cards to your dentist, to how to get special features in national publications. Great tips for designers who are starting out and want to get their cards into the hands of people beyond friends and family. Special Section: Submissions guidelines and contacts for 22 Gift Industry publications and professional gift industry blogs that seek out new greeting card designs to feature for free.

7 Mistakes Greeting Card Writers Make Booklet on common mistakes greeting card writers make and what to avoid when submitting greeting card verse to publishers. Today, greeting card publishers are shying away from traditional stereotypes, and may even include pets as family members. This article talks about how to create a trendy card that reflects the contemporary world we live in, and how to use our own personal experiences to create great card verse. Topics include: how to avoid limiting the market of who could buy your card, when to use adjectives, how not to creating card for enemies, how to write like people talk and a list of why card sentiment submissions are often rejected. The good news is you can increase your odds of success by 60% by doing a few simple things. 

20 Steps to Art Licensing: How to Sell Your Designs to Card and Gift Companies A booklet on how to license your art to companies that publish greeting cards, and manufacture coffee mugs, magnets, wall hangings, kitchen items, and dozens of other gift items. This booklet covers 20 basic steps from how to prepare your art, to what companies to contact. It includes topics on: How to find agents, classes and what trade shows to attend. There are extensive resources on social media, licensing community groups, copyrights, and lists of interviews with professional designers.

Get Your Greeting Cards Into Stores: How to Find and Work With Sales Reps If you already make your own greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them sell nationwide. Included are guidelines on: how to price your cards for a profit, how to get professional feedback, where to find a sales representative and and what industry standards you should follow. All the information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals, calendars, collectibles, etc. Chapter topics: Getting Professional Feedback, Getting Your First Account, Pricing and Profits, Sales Reps 101, Where to Find Reps, Rep Readiness Checklist, Pitching Your Line to a Rep and Working With Reps. 

Greeting Card Class
You can also sign up for the class called Getting into the Greeting Card Business.  The content is based on my experience of working in the industry for over 20 years, and from publishing over 1,000 cards.
Register here. 

Interview with Greetings etc. Editor, Kathy Krassner

Kathy Krassner, former editor-in-chief at Greetings etc. magazine, a greeting card trade publication for retailers. It is the primary source for news and trends in the greeting card industry.

Years ago, when I first started my greeting card manufacturing business, I had no marketing budget, so I took a chance and mailed Greetings etc. samples of my cards. I had no expectations much would come from it, since I was such a small time operator, so imagine my surprise and delight to discover they had featured my line in their publication. But it wasn't only me. They often feature new or unknown card designers. Because of this, I've always admired the spirit of Greetings etc. magazine because they include "everyone" in the industry.

Recently I approached Kathy Krassner to do an interview for this blog. She was very generous to take time out of her day to answer several questions I had about her experiences in the card industry.

CONTACT INFO: Kathy Krassner, editor-in-chief, Greetings etc. magazine, 4 Sheridan Lane, Ringoes, NJ 08551 908-284-0884
HOBBIES: I enjoy good food, red wine, Broadway shows, museums, rock music and the Sunday N.Y. Times crossword puzzle.
PERSONAL LIFE: I live with my husband, Bob Wolfman, two teenaged children, and four cats in Ringoes, NJ.
EDUCATION: I have a journalism degree from Hofstra University on Long Island, which is where I'm from originally.
VOLUNTEER WORK: I’m on the board of Gift for Life, the industry's volunteer organization supporting DIFFA -- Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS.
FAVORITE WRITER'S VACATION: Algarve region in southern Portugal. Seafood, wine, the beach ... what more could you ask for?

How did you become the editor of Greetings etc. Magazine?
I helped to launch Greetings etc. magazine in May 1999. At the time, I was on a committee with several members of the Greeting Card Association whose mission was to find a publisher who could produce a trade magazine that would reflect the artistry and creativity of the dynamic greeting card and stationery industry. I had a friend who worked at Edgell Communications, which presented a proposal and ultimately was chosen as the publisher of this successful, now 10-year-old publication. Previously, I had worked as an editor on several leading trade magazines covering the gift industry.

I've always been impressed that Greetings etc. is willing to feature small independent artists. How do you decide what cards to feature in your publications?
I have always been an advocate for the small, independent card publisher. It's great to find new resources, and I'm happy to be in a position in which I can help companies with quality lines that are just starting out. I do make sure that, before I give a new company editorial coverage, I inspect the quality of their paper stock and printing (I won’t include people printing cards on home computers). I also make sure that they’re currently selling to retailers nationwide, and not just to consumers via their own websites. It's not helpful to the card publisher or to the retailer if a line is not quite ready to launch.

What resources do you rely on to keep your eyes on trends?
I attend as many trade shows as possible, and of course always the National Stationery Show in May in New York City, to find trends and new resources. I also receive many press releases from companies regarding their new products. Additionally, I subscribe to more consumer magazines than many doctors' offices, and I check various design-oriented websites, in order to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening trendwise in fashion, home accessories, consumer-buying habits, etc. -- all of which translates into trends in the stationery arena.

As independent artists, what themes should we be concentrating on, if we want to get "ahead of the game"?
I believe the "green" theme is here to stay, including printing on recycled papers, using wind-power credits, and being eco-conscious both in how products are manufactured and how companies do business. Technology will also continue to propel card sales; e.g., sound cards have been a success for Hallmark; and LED-lighted cards are also gaining popularity (they’ve been quite popular in the U.K. for a while).

Do you have a story about an artist you featured, who later thanked you for helping them "make it"?
I don’t have a particular story to recount, but I have been thanked by many people whose products have been featured in Greetings etc. It's definitely gratifying to help new companies, as I mentioned, but it goes both ways: running good products in our magazine and online makes Greetings etc. a better resource for retailers.
What's the biggest mistake you think card designers make?
There are probably several: Not having a distinct look, not launching a line with enough designs, and not doing their homework to find reps who can sell their line nationwide.

What's the biggest mistake you think card text writers make?
Having written many card verses for various publishers over the years myself, it’s hard to say. Some cards work well with just a simple "Happy Birthday" greeting; while others need that unexpected twist or humorous message to play off the card’s image. It is said that the card's design helps the consumer to pick up a card, but it’s the verse that seals the sale.

What has been one of your most popular articles with readers?
The article I probably received the most response about was actually an editorial page I wrote about spelling the word “stationery” correctly; this is such a pet peeve in our industry! Many people wrote to thank me for that column; others wrote to apologize for having sent me letters and e-mails with the misspelling.

What do you think stores want these days, that there isn't enough of?
Well-priced, well-designed items.

Between ecards, consolidation of card companies, loss of younger customers and some retail stores closing, if I was an artist just starting out today, what would you recommend I focus on?
There’s always room in this industry for new talent. Again, be sure you have a distinct look, a wide range of card designs (at least 40 is usually the recommended number), and a day job to support your new card company. I would also suggest testing the waters with local retailers to see if you have a product line that will sell, before launching nationwide.

What do you think the biggest seller might be down the road? Birthday, humor, pets, giftwrap, characters?
You’ll have to read my 2010 Trends article in our next January/February issue!

How does someone submit cards to Greetings etc. for review?
We ask for hi-res jpgs (at least 3 inches big and 300 dpi), along with product details and retail pricing. A clickable "product-submission" link can be found at the bottom of our website, If you’re a brand new company, a few actual samples of the cards should be sent to me at the editorial address, which can also be found on Greetings etc.’s website.

A big *thanks* to Kathy for her time, tips and support
of independent artists!

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