So You Want To Write Greeting
Just as I've been doing for 17 years now, I'd like to welcome you to the world of greeting card writing. I've been a professional greeting card writer since 1986, started teaching aspiring writers in 1991 at my local community college, and finally, teaching online since 1998 and here at Absolute Write since 2001.
I suspect greeting card writing is viewed by many people as akin to writing messages for fortune cookies. They just know they can do it... but how in the world do they begin? Well, let me give you a basic blueprint for getting started. It's really not as tough as you may have thought.
One of the primary attractions to greeting card writing is that it's short. Let's face it—if you're a typical writer, you have another day job, so for starters, you can eat. You tend to "fit in" your writing, either at the end of a long day or at the very beginning before life gets in the way. With these small snippets of time, you've put aside dreams of the Great American Novel—or even the Small, Insignificant One. It's stretching the point to get a decent paragraph written before the starting bell of each day or lights out to finish it.
That's where greeting card writing comes in. It is the quintessential "do-able" genre. Even if you only have 20 minutes a day to call your own, you can accomplish much. In fact, that's about all the blocked time I had when I started back in 1986. I had two children under the age of four... and a burning desire to write and of course, get paid for my writing.
Besides being "do-able" due to its brevity, the competition—while admittedly stronger than when I began 22 years ago—is still not as fierce as you might imagine. As I noted above, plenty of people think they can write greeting cards. They just don't have the foggiest notion how to go about it. The 75-100 emails I receive weekly attest to the fact that while the spirit is willing, the knowledge is weak.
So, let's dispel a few myths that still stubbornly float around out there about greeting card writing and get you on a fast track to writing, submitting—and selling your verses.
Companies want both artwork and verse submitted together. I don't write verses because I can't draw.
Well, guess what?! I can't either; in fact, the best thing I draw anymore is a blank. If Myth #1 has been holding you back, you'll be thrilled to hear the majority of companies don't even want both the artwork and verse submitted together. In fact, they strongly prefer... and in most cases, require... verses to be submitted with no artwork, due to copyright considerations.
Now, if you submit a verse based on a visual to make sense, you'll need to describe the visual you have in mind in no more than two sentences (one sentence is better). So, for instance, if you write: These days it's getting tougher and tougher to make ends meet, you'll have to also include a line such as: Visual shows exercising woman trying to touch her toes with the tips of her fingers and not succeeding. This is exactly what I had to do to sell this exact verse as a woman friendship card. Without the visual suggestion, the editor wouldn't have known the play on words—namely, "making ends meet"—that I'd used. As a writer you want the editor to "get the picture," without your ever having physically to draw it.
I write serious verses, but they don't rhyme. I can't write rhymed poetry, so I don't write card verses.
Oh goodness, how I wish this myth would just disappear from the greeting card writing landscape. Yes, there are still rhymed, metered verses out there, but in general, they are the domain of the Big Two—Hallmark and American Greetings and they are mostly done in-house by staff writers. So, if your attempt at rhyming sounds like something out of Dr. Seuss, don't despair. Be glad... not sad!
Greeting card companies today thrive on soft contemporary prose, often called conversational prose. One of the famous forerunners of this niche was Blue Mountain Arts—also known as SPS Studios. Over the years, many other companies have followed suit with the 32-40 line verses. However, the majority of conversational prose is nothing more than a few, choice words, often just a phrase meant to capture the emotion between the sender of the card and the recipient.
Take this daughter-in-law birthday verse I sold several years ago:
The day you entered our lives...
...was the day you entered our hearts. Happy Birthday.
Can you imagine someone saying that to someone else? Of course you can. Why? Because we don't speak in rhyme. We speak in heartfelt, simple emotion—and that's what contemporary prose in greeting cards does as well.
So, even if you can't rhyme, as long as you can talk and express yourself simply, plainly and with genuine sincerity, there's no reason in the world why you can't write soft contemporary prose.
I'm terrible at jokes and a lot of today's cards are funny. I'm no gag writer so greeting cards are out.
I'd agree... if today's humorous greeting cards were nothing more than knock-knock jokes, but they're not. Mainstream humor has changed since the days of pratfalls, seltzer-in-your-pants, take my wife... please, take my wife... and we should all be thankful for that. This is such an important facet of greeting card writing that I devote an entire handout and exercise in my card writing online course for www.absolutewrite.com to "Real Life Situations."
Listen to comics such as Mitch Hedberg, Lewis Black or Wanda Sykes. They talk about real-life situations in a humorous way—situations we all share and we can all relate to. Greeting cards, because they reflect society's rhythms and interests, take their humor off the latest trends in fashion, entertainment, politics. They make a comment on life... our frustrations, sorrows, joys, desires. Their themes are wide and varied, ranging from dieting to men to single life to coping and stress. And all within a 5-25 word limit.
Look at this verse I sold in the 1990s during the Clinton (Bill) era:
O: You know, I think a lot of my problems stem from my behavior in the '60s and '70s...
I: ...I didn't exhale.
Can you hear Lewis Black or Wanda Sykes making this observation on stage a decade ago? Sure, because then it was timely and reminded many people of their younger, wilder selves—and also of the President's declaration that although he'd smoked weed, he'd never inhaled it. Today's headlines are grist for the greeting card writing mill and it's the savvy writer who can frame them into a sendable verse.
I sent work to Hallmark. It was rejected. So I guess that's about it for me. [That last sentence is implied].
While the other myths are bad enough, this one makes me crazy. The assumption here, of course, is that there is one greeting card company and after that, well that's it for you. May as well just hang it up. No writer in her right mind would say that about magazines, newsletters, journals, daily papers—so why would she give up after one submission to Hallmark? My emails are filled with this sad statement.
Estimates are that there exist around 1,000 card companies in the United States and Canada alone. One of my favorite questions to ask students is to name some card companies. Hallmark is first, followed quickly by American Greetings. Some people mention Shoebox, which if you do your research, you should know is a very successful line belonging to Hallmark. A few people offer Blue Mountain Arts and after that, silence.
Let me throw out just a few names for starters:
Graphique de France
Kate Harper Designs
Marian Heath Greeting Cards
Paper Trail Press
The Paper Magic Group
Laura Leiden Calligraphy
While the freelance requirements of the above, as well as other mid-size companies, ebb and flow, they remain a viable source for writing creativity. How do you find them? You take the initiative and go to boutiques, pet stores, book stores, gift shops adjoining restaurants, tourist towns whose stores thrive on the unusual and eclectic. And, of course, with the Internet, there's no excuse for not finding new companies and established smaller ones—most have their own website and many have their published cards online so a writer can get a feel for what they publish.
I've dispelled the major myths—those pesky stumbling blocks that stop many would-be greeting card writers from trying their talent at this unique, fun writing genre. Remember, greeting card writing is one of the sunniest genres around. Since the time I started my writing career 22 years ago, I've been published in fiction and nonfiction, syndicated book reviews and written celebrity profiles. I've been interviewed in such places as NBC-TV, the BBC (3 times), "Voice of America," Mslexia: For Women Who Write (England), "Valentine Show in the Morning," Metro (with a world-wide readership of over 37 million), 801 (the magazine of Columbia School of Journalism), the Christian Science Monitor, Attaché (U.S. Air's inflight magazine), The National Examiner, Ferguson's Careers in Focus (found in all middle and high schools in the U.S.), and made the cover of Parade Magazine. My work was featured in the early 1990s on "Live! With Regis And Kathie Lee!" and I've written greeting cards for lines sponsored by actress Stefanie Powers and former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar.
Greeting card writing, with its short, snappy format, remains one of my favorite types of writing. My students, past and present, heartily agree and this genre continues to generate interest among aspiring writers. If you're interested in more information, see the links below. Good luck in whatever creative path you take—and I certainly hope one of those paths will be writing for today's greeting cards.
www.greetingcardwriting.com (This is my site and included in it is a free tip sheet with selected complimentary company names and addresses.)
http://www.absoluteclasses.com/Louden/greetingcards.htm (This is my online class through Absolute Write which has been going strong since 2001. It is an 8 session course that lasts 3 months—one session sent every 10 days and has total, individual, one-on-one instruction. Hope to see you in class!)
email@example.com (If you need to get in touch with me, please feel free to use this email address).
My best-selling book, Write Well & Sell: Greeting Cards, has been around since 1998. It has been referred to as the quintessential helpmate to learn the craft of freelance greeting card writing and goes for extraordinary prices—used—on both eBay and Amazon. While it is no longer available through my site, I am currently at work on a much-requested 2nd edition. Please get updates about its publication on my site on the "Order My Books" page; by the time you read this, it may well be ready.
Sandra Miller-Louden (www.greetingcardwriting.com) has worked for Absolute Write as a greeting card writing instructor since 2001. Her work won the coveted Louie Award (the industry's highest honor) and in addition to teaching and writing, Sandra does major consulting work in the field of greeting cards.
Her work has appeared on Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee and she's been interviewed in many places, including The National Examiner, Staples, com, Metro, The Christian Science Monitor, Voice of America, The Washington Post, Careers in Focus: Entrepreneurs (2nd Edition), Attaché (U.S. Air), Talk Magazine, the BBC (three different occasions), Valentine in the Morning Show (Los Angeles), The Philadelphia Inquirer, spawn.org and NBC-TV. She also appeared on the cover of Parade Magazine in 2006.
In additional, Sandra has written two successful books on writing and a number of booklets. Her book reviews, quizzes, articles and short stories have appeared in various publications.
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