Breaking into the Greeting Card Writing Market

Here is part of an interview I did for Women on Writing (w.o.w.) publication a few months back. It's about my experience of buying greeting card copy.

Interview with Kate Harper by LuAnn Schindler

WOW: I first saw your greeting cards about 10 years ago. But for our readers who are unfamiliar with your card line, would you give an overview of the types of cards you offer? KATE: For over a decade, I designed and sold my cards through about 40 sales reps, but about two years ago, I licensed my line to another company so I could have more free time to do artwork. Now I am in the process of tweaking the line and adding inside text, which I never did before.

Now I know what it is like to be "both sides": the “buyer” of text and the “writer” of text.

WOW: How did you break into the business?
KATE: I made them for friends as a hobby and eventually I began selling locally and then nationally to chains like Barnes and Noble. Then I started buying text from professional writers.

WOW: For writers considering submitting, how difficult is it to make the cut? KATE: I think there is a real lack of everyday sentiments people can relate to. In fact research shows that writing is the critical element on whether someone will buy a card. The image and price are secondary. Also, if you can make someone laugh out loud, as far as I'm concerned, you've already sold the card.
I've reviewed thousands and thousands of submissions in my life, I'd say you are really competing with a lot of people who haven't done any homework. Here's an estimate of the kinds of submissions I received:

-25% have not read my guidelines.
25% are sending inappropriate subject matter for a greeting card or are rude ("I know you are fat and that's because you eat too much birthday cake").-5% are sending trademarked words I can't use (Chevy, iPod, Xerox).
5% come from prisons
-5-10% are great but their email doesn't work anymore
5% send me a long letter of how they need to make money and please will you publish my quote.
10% are religious, and again, have not read my guidelines.
10% have read up on what makes good card text, have read my guidelines, and are making a good effort at "trying" to get it right. I respect that...they just haven't hit a zinger yet.
10% are great submissions, and I buy them. The writer seems an authentic, down to earth, real person and sees the world in interesting ways. They also talk from experience.
SO, there are 80% of authors who have not studied greeting card writing styles, and 20% who have. So if you do your homework, you've already narrowed down your competition from 100 people to 20 people.

WOW: Should greeting card writers specialize in one type of verse? KATE: Humor is a big seller. So are pets. I often asked my writers to use the "pet voice"—what would your pet say if he could? I think shorter verse is better since people don't like reading long text on a card rack. But traditional text that expresses "how much I care" or "am thankful to you" is always important. Birthdays are one of the biggest sellers, so if you can combine humor, birthday and pets—I'd say that's a home run! But try anything. Don't fret over things, just throw them out there, submit them, and look for funny things you hear or see in your daily life.

WOW: Many card lines seem to fall into defined categories so an individual purchasing a card knows, for instance, that line x has a hint of sarcasm, line y is sentimental, and line z is humorous. What is your greeting card philosophy? KATE: I think I generally feel like the more you laugh or say "ahhh" (like you would when you see a kitten) the happier your life will be. So I've heard from store buyers that people will spend 30 minutes looking at my line in the store and laughing out loud. That's a complete success to me. That means I've made a personal connection with the reader and I've made them laugh.

WOW: How important is it for writers to submit a total package? Do other card companies have similar guidelines? KATE: Every company is different and has specific guidelines. I can only tell you what I liked: • Always by email • Only 10 per email • Blank spaces between quotes so it's easier to read. The biggest problem I had was that people often gave me outdated emails, so 3-6 months later, when I needed to select quotes, about 10% of the writers could not be contacted. Writers should ALWAYS send multiple contact sources (mailing address, secondary email, or even your mother's address!) I really doubt that most companies would ever give out this information to anyone—so don't be nervous about that. It's usually pretty safe to give out private contact information since it's probably only going to be used to locate you.

WOW: If I have an idea for a greeting card verse, what’s one important idea I should keep in mind? KATE: I always say--visualize the person the card is going to: Your nephew? Your friend? Your son, on graduation day? Close your eyes and really tell me what you would want to say to them (even if you are too shy to do it real life). What do you authentically feel in your heart? It's probably the same thing we all feel, but we just don't know how to say it or are too embarrassed to. Cards are a medium that expresses words we want to say, but don't know we let the card say it for us.

WOW: When you consider a submission, do you purchase all rights? What’s typical in the industry? KATE: Typically, all rights are purchased. I was an oddball, and didn't purchase all rights because I wanted the writer to be able to resell their work. That is very unusual.

WOW: For writers who haven’t had much experience writing verse, what resources are available? KATE: Tons and tons. I have several books recommended on my blog under "books on my shelf." I also twitter out writing resources whenever I see them (twitter address is @kateharpercards) since I'm on a lot of alert lists for greeting card news.

WOW: What advice would you offer someone who wants to form her own greeting card business? KATE: I'd say research is 80% of the business, and 20% is trying different things and showing your designs to professionals (stores, sales reps) for feedback. Friends don't count because they love everything you do. Take your cards to a store and stick them on the shelf, step back, and see if they fit in or if they look too unprofessional or too dark. If they look like they "belong" there—that's great! Then start talking to store reps and learn about manufacturing and costs. The sooner you get a professional opinion early on in your card development, the more you will get a clear direction and not waste time on bad designs. This will save you a lot of time. Make sure you tell people you "won't get your feelings hurt", you just want ruthless true advice on how to improve the card and make it sellable.

LuAnn Schindler is a full-time freelance journalist living on the eastern slope of the Nebraska Sandhills on a dairy farm with 200+ Holsteins. She currently blogs for The Muffin, the WOW! Women On Writing daily blog. Her work has appeared in the Pregnancy, 2: The Couples Magazine, Denver Post, Rural Electric Nebraskan, Absolute Write, in addition to other publications. LuAnn is a member of the National Federation of Press Women and Nebraska Press Women.


 Books on Writing Card Sentiments 

You Can Write Greeting Cards This hands-on guide features practical instruction and exercises that teach beginners how to survey the market, find their niche, and write greetings cards that say just the right thing.

A Guide to Greeting Card Writing All forms are discussed in detail: conventional verse and prose, personal relationship cards, humor, juvenile, inspirational, etc. Detailed info on how to submit and sell your work to greeting card markets. All the nuts and bolts of both the creative art and the publishing market.

Write Greeting Cards Like a Pro Moore knows the ins and outs of the greeting card business. In this hands-on guide, she offers practical instruction, idea joggers, and exercises that will teach you how to survey the market, find your niche, and write greeting cards that say just the right thing. From humor to inspirational writing, Moore profiles the special needs of each greeting card category and also shows you how to spot new trends, so you can write the cards publishers are seeking today.

The Freelance Writing for Greeting Card Companies This book targets important areas a writer needs to know in regards to being self-employed, as well as, how to own a small greeting card business. It covers Internet to explore the technology which has opened the door for freelance writers and artists. You will find web sites that will offer a variety of freelance writers opportunities never before known or unreachable outside the Internet world such as: chat rooms, bulletin boards, or forums so writers can communicate with other writers. This type of networking is ideal for finding answers or obtaining valuable information about a company, organizations, writing groups, and available resources.

How to Write and Sell Greeting Cards, Bumper Stickers, T-Shirts and Other Fun Stuff A successful freelancer shares her years of experience and advice in writing for the "social expression market".

Thinking of You: A Card Greeting for Every Occasion This little books helps to jump start your thinking to make messages for cards.

Finding the Right Words: Perfect Phrases to Personalize Your Greeting Cards More than three dozen ways to say "Happy Birthday” for new family members...even pets. Includes thoughtful condolences for personalizing sympathy cards and congratulatory wishes for weddings and anniversaries. There are helpful hints to simplify card-sending and a monthly calendar for birthdays and anniversaries. This is a book of phrases for all occasions.

Ebook by Kate Harper

You can support this blog by ordering Kate's e-Booklets starting at only .99 cents! They can be read on your kindle, ipad, ipod, cellphone, or your computer. Free samples and lending options available. 

7 Mistakes Greeting Card Writers is a booklet that explains what to avoid when submitting greeting card verse to publishers. Learn how to create a trendy card that reflects the contemporary world we live in, and how to use your own personal experience to create card verse. Topics include: how to avoid limiting your market, when to use adjectives, not creating card for enemies, write like people talk and a list of why card sentiment submissions are often rejected. You can increase your odds of success by 60% just by doing a few simple things. Includes a list of card publishers and their guidelines, links to writer interviews, and writing exercises for how to create good verse.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As always great post! I write and illustrate my line which is produced by a fairly large company... One of the things I identify and agree with is creating from the point of view of who are you sending the card to and for what reason/ occasion.

My girlfriends are invaluable as I do woman-to-woman humor cards ... they save me a fortune in therapy!
Thanks Kate/ Collene