Write (And Draw) Your Way To The Greeting

Sandra Miller-Louden, a veteran greeting card writer and
author of Write Well & Sell: Greeting Cards, summarized
writing for the greeting card market best: "A writer can
really get spoiled in this genre, because not only is it "fun,
immediate" writing, it also pays quite well!"

� "I Could Do This!"

Sandra was flipping through a greeting card catalogue in
February 1986 when she read one of the verses and thought
to herself, "I could do this."

"I knew no one in the business and I made every mistake in
the book," Sandra confesses. "But even so, sold my first card
to Current of Colorado Springs, the same card catalogue I
was browsing through, three months later. It was a Halloween
caption and even though I only netted $15 for it, I was thrilled
that someone paid me for my words. Later that same year, I
sold two more verses to Oatmeal Studios in Vermont, for $50

That was the beginning of Sandra's writing career in the
greeting card business. Since then, she has gone on to write
for different markets and published in magazines and
newspapers. She has also written for software companies,
conducted writing seminars and workshops, and taught
greeting card writing at Pennsylvania's local community
college as well as on the Internet. She has developed "The
Freelancing Life," a course that teaches her students to
write for genres that aren't as well known, such as book
reviews, eulogies, step-by-steps, quizzes and fillers.

"I knew I'd found my niche and never wavered in my desire
to know the greeting card market and industry inside out
and write for that market," she shares.

Dan Reynolds, on the other hand, began writing for the
greeting card market eight years ago when one of his works
was accepted.

"First, I collected a lot of my best material," Dan shares. "Then,
I mailed card companies and asked for their submission
requirements. I received back two responses: one from Oatmeal
Studios and the other from Recycled Paper Greetings.

"Oatmeal was not interested. Too bad for them as RPG responded
favorably and out of my first submission to them they had one
of my cards finish number one in the country in their test market
research. From there I was given a royalty contract and I've
been with them ever since 1992," Dan reveals.

Donna sold some of her works to greeting card companies
several years ago.

"When I first began writing, I researched a variety of markets,"
Donna narrates. "I began with children's periodicals and also
did some writing for women's periodicals. I sold some poetry to
some small markets and then submitted some verses that were
specifically oriented toward certain markets - Christian,
children's, humor, etc. I sold several things to g.c. markets
almost immediately in the Christian market."

Mary Emma Allen and Sherry Nardella, however, broke into
the greeting card genre by writing, designing and selling their
own finished cards.

"Along with my writing, I was doing crafts and artwork. This
included painting in oils and watercolors," starts Mary Emma
who is a freelance writer and book author. "How could I
combine my writing and painting? Why not produce greeting
cards and note paper for some of the outlets that took my
quilts, toys, crafts. My mother operated a country general
store and was always on the lookout for new items to sell.
She encouraged me to produce cards for her customers."

Mary Emma's cards were made by hand, using water colors
and pen and ink to create original designs.

"I will have to say truthfully that I can never afford to buy
cards for anyone in my family," Sherry relates. "I write good
poems and I draw cartoons that best describe the words in
the card. My family told me I should do something about it
and write greeting cards for a living."

� It's In The Voice and In The Rack Impact

The greeting card genre is different from all other types
of writing, hence editors, when buying a potential greeting
card material, look for the "me-to-you" voice.

"No, question - the vast majority of editors look for that
'me-to-you' voice in a greeting card," affirms Sandra.
"Note I use the word 'voice' rather than the more common
'style' used to indicate other genres. That's because greeting
card writing is unique in that it is an interactive genre; the
greeting card writer is that anonymous third voice between
two other people...the card sender and the card recipient.
She is saying for others what they may be unwilling or
unable to say for themselves."

"Her words are there for all life's basic happenings -- a birth,
a graduation, an illness, an engagement, wedding, retirement,
funeral; not to mention those yearly occasions such as birthdays,
anniversaries and seasonals," Sandra explains. "Throw in those
"just because" friendship (thinking of you, miss you, love you,
let's get together, sorry I haven't written, etc.)...then add all
those "occasions" we didn't even have 15-20 years ago (coping,
death of a pet, glad to hear you've quit smoking, Boss's Day,
Secretary's Day, Nurse's Day)...well, you can see where the
'voice' is vital."

According to Donna, editors also look for originality, salability
and appropriateness for their greeting card audience.

Dan shares that editors are different depending on the needs
of the company. "Know your market. Make sure you query
with a company. If you're doing funny stuff like I do, be
better than the next guy. If you're doing sentimental material,
make sure your sap runneth over."

Sandra adds that editors look to see the writer's understanding
of the "rack impact."

"How do you see most cards displayed? Either in a spinner or
a rack. In either case, but especially in a rack display, each
greeting card has 1.5 seconds to catch a reader's ("consumers")
eye; if the card is too esoteric, has too many words, is obscure
in any way, the buyer will move onto the next card without even
picking it up," Sandra elaborates. "Every editor has this concept,
'rack impact,' in mind and uses it as her basic criterion for
buying a writer's work."

� Saying It With Images

One of the most popular online greeting card providers today
is E-Cards.com (http://www.e-cards.com), and instead of
text, majority of their content is photographic. This makes
E-Cards.com a good avenue for artists.

Robb Waterman, CEO and Founder of E-Cards.com, shares,
"Many of our cards might be better described as electronic

"In judging photographic content, we look at image quality,
scan quality, composition, gut appeal and subject appropriateness,"
Robb explains. "Does the photograph fit one of these themes:
wildlife, nature, international, educational?"

E-Cards.com also has a category for animated cards. "For these
we look for tie-ins to holiday, occasion or sentiment themes,"
Robb shares. "Animation quality is very important. A sense of
fun must be present in these images.

"We also try to select card images appropriate for a wide
range of ages," he adds. "And since our images are Web
distributed, image size and download times are important

Most of E-Cards.com's greeting cards are blank. They
don't contain fixed text.

"We let people come up with their own titles and text,"
says Robb. "This is an area we have been re-exploring. We
may add more 'non-blank' cards and are considering
adding poetry cards."

� A Living, Breathing Industry

The greeting card industry is the perfect ground for both
artist and writer. For the artist, it's a good way to hone
his artistic talent; and for the writer, it's the best genre
to learn how to write 'tight.'

So, how easy or hard is it to break into the greeting card

"There probably are not as many greeting card publishers
and distributors as there are magazine publications," Robb
begins. "However, each greeting card house does have an
appetite for a large number of cards.

"Like writers seeking a venue for their work, card artists
should figure out where their artistic style best fits. A card
that might not work for one publisher might be perfect for
another," he explains.

Sandra recently attended her first Stationery Show in
New York.

"This is where most of the major greeting card publishers
display their new products for retailers," she explains.
"Seeing the many booths and products out there only
reinforced my love and enthusiasm for this industry.

"I love the greeting card industry. It is exciting, it moves
with trends and it provides me the opportunity to use a cliche
and that is, it is truly a living, breathing industry," says
Sandra. "If there is something on the news, whether it be
faxes and computers (in the early '90s) or Rogaine and
Viagra (in the late '90s)...if you hear about it on the news,
you'll soon be seeing a reference to it in greeting cards.

"I consider 'breaking into' any type of writing as submitting
and selling one's work," Sandra continues. "I've had students
do that with their first 'batch' of greeting card ideas.

"Depending upon one's creative output, it is definitely easier
than ANY other genre I can think of," she states. "Many of
my students/readers have sold their greeting card work in
a remarkably short time. I can honestly say that when I
developed the course and subsequently wrote my book, I
was determined to save people those first 4 years of my
writing, when basically I was learning the ropes and making
every mistake I could think of."

Sandra advises her students to submit their works to mid-size
and smaller companies. She works with the premise that by
doing so, her students have a bigger chance of receiving
individualized attention, comments and feedback.

"Most beginners think 'Hallmark' or 'American Greetings'
and sure, if that's where one starts submitting work, then
yes, the odds become less favorable," Sandra explains.
"I don't direct my students there. They get their valuable
experience dealing with editors, assignments, deadlines
with mid-size companies; and many have accumulated
quite an impressive portfolio of sales in only a year or two."

Because there is generally less competition in the greeting
card market, it's a market that's relatively easy to break into.

"Many people don't know how to submit their work to
card companies," admits Sandra. "They're confused about
whether or not to draw, how to physically submit a card
idea, etc. That weeds out many people who, because they
don't know how, don't bother to find out."

� To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

So which type of material has a higher chance of getting
accepted and bought by a greeting card company?

"Overall, unrhymed has an edge," Sandra answers. "But,
having said that, I also must stress that rhymed verse
has made nothing short of a dramatic comeback in terms
of freelance writing in the past 4-5 years.

"Many of my students have sold, and continure to sell,
rhyme," she continues. "One big misconception, though,
is equating personal poetry with the poetry that sells
for a greeting card. I wrote an entire piece for Poet's
Market 2000 on just that subject; anyone who now writes
poetry, don't stop! However, you should understand the
difference between personal poetry that tends to be
'about me' and poetry in a card that still MUST be
'from me to you.'"

Mary Emma shares that when writing original greeting
cards, one must create his own verses.

"Keep a notepad with you so you can write down bits
of poetry, meaningful inspirational phrases, humorous
incidents as they come to you," she says. "Then you
can draw upon these when writing verses for your own
cards or creating verses to send to greeting card

� A Definite Overlap

Writing for online and offline greeting card companies
provides no real difference for Sandra.

"I've only just begun working with online greeting card
companies and my work there has been more along the
consulting line," Sandra begins. "New card companies,
whether on or off line, seek creative and marketing advice
on how to start up. This is definitely an offshoot of my
writing career, just as the teaching, lecturing and writing
my book, Write Well & Sell: Greeting Cards. So my work
with online card companies has not so much focused on
writing actual verses (although I have done some of that)
as consultation.

"There is really not that much difference," she continues.
"I am finding that with 'traditional' offline companies, many
of these now have web sites where the writer can write
directly online and send her verses in that mode. Other
companies will fax me assignments and then will accept
e-mailed submissions directly to the editor. So there is a
definite 'overlap' if you will."

She also states that the type of material greeting card
companies accept and buy is not dependent on whether
the company is an offline or an online one. Acceptance
is based more on the company's focus, whether their

line of cards are traditional poetry, short prose, gentle
humor, and risqu� or salty humor.

� Don't Overkill Your Copyright

"I get the copyright question constantly," answers Sandra.
"For individual, unrelated verses, copyright is overkill and
I do not recommend it.

"Many times, too, beginners will write to me telling me they
are new to the field but have this terrific line of cards they
want to submit to a company," she continues. "I always
advise them to get their feet wer first, by submitting 'cold'
to various companies, getting to know the editors, etc. They
can always be working simultaneously on their 'line;'
fleshing it out, getting it spruced up...and THEN once an
editor has come to know and trust their work, they can
approach this editor as they would an editor for a book
proposal. They can 'propose' a line to and editor and have
a shot at it being considered.

"I advise them, at that time, to name the entire 'line' and
copyright the name (meaning also the line), citing each
individual caption in the line...in that way, it is one copyright
fee, covering many individual verses," explains Sandra.

For Dan, the copyright issue is a personal decision.

"I opt for NEVER giving my rights away," he states. "A
company will usually give you a royalty contract only if
they think you are valuable material and you can produce
on a regular basis. Some companies just plain won't do a
royalty contract.

Blue Mountain Arts (http://www.bluemountainarts.com),
another popular online greeting card provider, buys
exclusive and worldwide rights (publication rights) from

The materials that BMA purchases undergo a 24-month
market review. During that time, BMA have rights to publish,
sell and promote an author's work in all types of greeting
cards, notecards or any other products.

� Response Times, Payments and Contracts

E-Cards.com's response times to submissions vary.

"Speeding response times is a major initiative of ours," says
Robb. "Currently, response times range between a couple
of days and four weeks depending on other initiatives that
are occupying our schedules.

Sandra shares that response time is generally faster online
than the regular postal mail.

"I think that's just inherent in its nature," she opines. "The
fact that physically an editor can sit at a keyboard, just
as I'm doing now, and respond quickly, rather than open
an envelope, look at 3"x5" index cards, deal with the
return envelope, etc.

"It sounds as if I'm making a big deal over nothing; but
when you consider that even a mid-size greeting card
company can receive as many as 250 envelopes per
week, multiplied by 10-15 ideas in each envelope...well,
you see why cyberspace submitting is faster and more
conducive to quick turn-around time," she explains.

"Again, payment and contracts have more to do with the
individual companies and their policies," she adds. "I don't
believe those are dictated by whether a company is in
cyberspace or traditional.

"The range of pay is anywhere from $3/line of poetry,
which is considered low, to $150 per verse for a humorous
caption," says Sandra. "Humor pays generally more. In my
own career, I've been paid as low as $15 a verse to as
high as $150/verse. When you break this down to a 'per
word' dollar amount, it's often unbelievable. I've made as
high as $50/word."

A number of artists who contribute their work for E-Cards.com
get exposure instead of monetary payments.

"We provide links beneath an artist's card back to an artist's
website. This program has been in place for 4 years and has
been very successful for us and our artists," explains Robb.

E-Cards.com also pays artists who work with them regularly.
"We contract these artists for special work," shares Robb.
"For example, we might contract someone to help extend our
selection of St. Patrick's Day cards."

BMA's payment range from $200-$450 per verse. The company's
contract states that authors are paid $200 each for the first
and second upon BMA's exercise of its publication rights,
$300 for the third, $375 for the fourth, and $450 for the
fifth and subsequent materials.

"As I think I mentioned before, a writer can really get
spoiled in this genre, because not only is it 'fun, immediate'
writing, it also pays quite well," reiterates Sandra.

� Writing Tight

Definitely one of the advantages of starting a writing
career in the greeting card genre is the chance to learn
how to write 'tight.'

According to Donna, the greeting card genre allows a
writer to experiment and work with language and various
means of communicating an idea in a very short piece.

"As I've mentioned before, greeting card writing teaches
a writer to 'write tight,'" Sandra shares. "In my book
and in my class, we go through specific examples of this.

"Also, again, greeting card writing is no different from
conventional wwriting when it comes to working with an
editor, an assignment, a deadline, a contract, etc. It's
just 'shorter' writing."

Sandra also shares that most writers who think it more
prestigious to write for magazines eventually come back
to card writing.

"Because it's more profitable and certainly time-friendly
and 'do-able,'" she explains. "They want a project that
has a definite beginning, middle and end...something they
can do to perhaps break up the monotony of a long article
or a sticking point in a novel.

"So, perhaps, someone with loftier dreams of being
published may find herself constantly pulled back into
the writing world of greeting cards because of the
conciseness of time and the terrific pay rate."

� Advice From Those Who've Been There and Done It

No doubt about it, the number one advice on how you can
break through the greeting card genre is: "Study the

From Donna: "Know your market! Look at at greeting cards
that the publisher sells. Find out if they pay more for
submitting and selling multiple cards rather than one at
a time. Investigate a variety of markets and try as many
as you feel fit your own writing style. Like most writing,
finding your own niche is essential and won't be accomplished
without research and effort on your part."

From Mary Emma: "Study the various cards on the market.
Determine what type of market you like to write for...
inspirational, sentimental, humorous. Try writing the type
of verse you like to read and receive.

"Since I've not written for a greeting card company, only
designed and produced my original cards, I can't say
for sure what leads to success there. However, as with
any type of writing, check out the guidelines the greeting
card companies put out. Learn what they're looking for,
study the cards they have on the market, and check out
how they want you to submit your verses.

"There are also books on writing for the greeting card
market. If you want to produce your own cards, begin
practicing. Use your note pad to sketch ideas for pictures
as well as greetings on the cards. Then notice original
cards in various shops...how are they produced and
packaged? How are they priced? Don't copy them, but
get ideas on the techniques and then try your original

From Dan: "Write/draw everyday. I compare card people
wanna-bes to those folks who say, 'I want to learn how
to play the guitar.' Yeah, today, they want to learn the
guitar but when they find out the hard work involved
they fall quickly to the wayside. The only people who will
eventually become a greeting card person is the person
who REALLY wants to do it and who takes the many
rejections they will get not defeats but a challenge.
I get rejection all the time and I just thik to myself,
'They're the ones that are losing out.'"

From Robb: "Build a portfolio and resume of work. Create
a venue where your portfolio and your published work
can easily be viewed -- in our case, a clean, well-constructed
website best accomplishes this.

"Target your publishers. Where does your work fit? How
can you adjust your work to fit a particular publisher?

"Be persistent. As your work improves, add your best
works to your portfolio and remove those that haven't
endured as well with time.

"For the web: Learn your graphics tools. Know how to use
these tools to render high-quality size efficient graphics,
photos and animations. Adobe Photoshop and Image Ready,
and Macromedia Fireworks and Flash are all great tools
to be expert in."

From Sandra: "Study the racks, not as a consumer, but
as a writer. Don't just look at the writing, look at the
artwork as well. See the greeting card as a whole entity...
study how artwork and text combine to form this perfect
whole we call 'greeting card.'

"Find as many mid-size and smaller companies as you can.
Visit stores like Target, pet shops, florists, gift boutiques,
sporting good stores, etc. Most stores have at least a
spinner with cards. After the telephone, greeting cards
are still the #1 form of communication.

"Also, read the books out there on card writing. Besides
mine, Karen Ann Moore and Molly Wigand have books on
the subject. They were former editors of card companies,
so their focus is a bit different than mine, which comes
from my 'in the trenches experience' as a stay-at-home
Mom with no former contacts. If you're so inclined, take
a greeting card writing course.

"And of course, submit your work. You can't sell what
you don't send in...I can't stress that enough. I have
taught many talented people, yet only a fraction follow
through and actually send in their work to editors."

Pick up your pen or put your fingers on the keyboard
and begin writing your way to the greeting card genre
success with your verses!

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