Friday, April 10, 2015

Writing for greeting cards

Walk into a supermarket or convenience store and you will see an aisle full of greeting cards.  Birthday cards, anniversary cards, sympathy cards, retirement cards... the list goes on and on.  Think about all the different greeting cards you've ever seen.  Now think about the fact that a lot of people have made money thinking up all those different card ideas.  With a little effort, you could be one of those people.

Writing for greeting cards is a small niche market that often goes unnoticed by creative people who could make a lot of money if they only knew how to break in.  In theory, writing for greeting cards is not difficult: simply think up an idea for a card, find a company to send the idea to, follow their guidelines and either mail or email them your idea.

But that first step is the hardest -- thinking up the idea.  Before you start brainstorming, you need to decide what type of card you are shooting for.  There are all sorts of occasion cards: from birthday cards to thank you cards to sympathy cards, and everything in between.  You also need to consider if you're going to focus on humorous cards (which can be anything from cheesy to racy), sentimental cards, or verse cards (usually rhyming poetry or lyrical verse).  Just narrowing down your scope can take some time.

Once you have a general idea of what kind of card you want to write and the tone you want to use, visit a card store or other retailer and check out similar cards.  Think about what makes the funny ones funny (or how they could be funnier), what makes them appeal to a broad audience, and what makes people pick them up rather than the card next to them.

Now it's time to write.  Think up as many ideas as you can for a greeting card, then go back and revise the ideas until you think you have some good ones.  (Most card companies would rather you submit in batches than just single ideas.)  A common way to write down a card idea is to start with what the outside of the card will say (denoted by "O:") and then further down the page, the inside of the card ("I:").  For example:

O:  It's your birthday!

I:  ... Ha ha, you're old!

Obviously this idea isn't a particularly good one, but it illustrates the format that many card companies use as a standard.

Once you have some card ideas down on paper, start researching the market.  Search for "greeting card companies" on the Internet, and find their guidelines page.  Go back to the card store and write down the names of companies (usually on the back of the card) that produce cards similar to the ones you thought of, and look them up, too.

Greeting card companies typically pay between $50 and $150 per card idea.  This generally gives them all rights to the card, so you won't be making any royalties.  Most of the time, however, they'll print your name (or pen name) on the back of the card as a credit.

Most companies accept submissions year-round.  Some will respond to you whether they like your ideas or not; others will only contact you if they want to buy an idea.  Either way, it can be a long process, so while you're waiting, think up some more ideas and send them to other companies.

(Originally published on, March 2009)

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