Freelance writers often struggle to pay the bills. Sometimes you never know when that next check is going to come in, so it helps to have your hand in as many pots as possible.
There are many ways freelance writers can earn additional income. If you're a magazine feature writer, you could try your hand at fiction writing. If you are a novelist, you might write the occasional column or poem to sell. But even outside the wide world of magazines, journals, newspapers, and book publishers, there is a whole universe eager for your words... and willing to pay you for them.
This article focuses on writing for greeting cards as extra income, but there are a host of other opportunities too -- writing slogans, writing online book reviews, writing for websites such as Helium or Epinions, even writing newsletters or pamphlets.
For the struggling writer, greeting cards can be a nice source of supplemental income. Cards are needed year-round, and the only limit to how many you can write is your imagination. Most companies accept submissions by email or through a web-based program, so you might not even need to spring for stamps.
Greeting card companies usually pay a flat fee for all relevant rights to your idea, somewhere in the range of $50 to $150. They pay separately for copy and art, so don't feel like you have to provide an illustration for your submission. (Though if you have an idea for the art, a description or sketch is usually appreciated.)
The main thing to remember when writing greeting cards is to write for a broad audience. A birthday card that might be funny to give to your wife may not appeal to a lot of other people. When greeting card companies buy submissions, they look for ideas that aren't too narrow in scope (like a "Happy 30th Birthday to My Brother-in-Law" card). Sometimes companies will put out a call for submissions for a specific occasion or a specific audience, but unless you are submitting in response to one of these requested themes, keep your ideas as general as possible. The wider the range of recipients your card could be given to, the better chance you have of selling it.
Most greeting card companies want submissions in basically the same format: "O:" followed by the text on the outside of the card, and "I:" followed by the text to appear on the inside. If a company wants you to submit by mail, find out first if they want submissions on index cards or typed on letter-sized paper. (Always include an SASE.) Unless the guidelines state otherwise, send submissions in large batches, 10 to 20 card ideas at a time.
Response times vary greatly in the greeting card industry, and many companies won't even respond unless they plan on using your submission. If you're a freelance writer, you're already used to long waits, but don't be surprised if you never receive a reply.
(Originally published on Helium.com, March 2009)