March 27, 2008

Guest Blogger -- Sandra Louden, Greeting Card Writer Extraordinaire

If you've ever read a greeting card and thought, "I can do that," you're right! You can. Many greeting card company editors are eagerly awaiting the next submission of unique, innovative and funny birthday card ideas to land on their desks.

I'm delighted to have Sandra Louden (www.greetingcardwriting.com) with us today to share her many years of experience writing and selling greeting cards.

Sandra, take it away . . .

I’m a professional greeting card writer and have been for over 22 years. Although I’ve been published in other genres, I’ve been tagged “a greeting card writer”— and that’s mainly how I’m known. I’ve written a strong-selling book on breaking into this often-misunderstood genre, which is about to go into a 2nd edition. I taught at our local Community College (Allegheny County—Pittsburgh) for 12 years. Even though my course was non-credit, the state rated it Occupational (as opposed to Recreational), which meant it was partially funded by the County and State, so even if enrollment didn’t reach the minimum, the course still ran. It was rated Occupational because my students sold their work on a regular basis and the state considered this an income-generating source. I’ve also taught online since 1998 at two writing schools: www.writerscollege.com and www.absolutewrite.com. I’ve been interviewed in many places, including NBC-TV, BBC (3 times), Voice of America, Attaché (In-flight magazine for U.S. Air), Ferguson’s Careers in Focus (found in middle and high schools), Christian Science Monitor, Mslexia (For Women Who Write – Newcastle-upon-Tyne), Metro (International Newspaper with a circulation of 37 million), 801 (Columbia School of Journalism), The National Examiner and made the cover of Parade Magazine.

That’s an overview of my background.

By way of introducing you to this writing genre, I’m going to let you in on some things I like—and know you will also—about greeting card writing. After that, I’ll get you started with a few card companies where you can send ideas. You can also contact me (that info is at the end of this blog), should you have further questions.

A Short List of Greeting Card Writing Positives:
1. You don’t have to write rhymed, metered Helen Steiner Rice-type verses.
2. You don’t have to draw the pictures.
3. There are other companies besides Hallmark and American Greetings.
4. The per-word dollar rate is terrific.

The persistent myth that greeting card writing means a Dad-sad-bad-had cycle amazes me. I mean, you only have to go to your nearest card store to see that rhymed, metered verse makes up an infinitesimal (well okay, maybe not quite that small—but pretty darned small) part of the collection of cards in front of you. The first questions to ask yourself here are: What sort of cards do I buy? What do I like to send? Which are my favorites to receive? Most of us today either opt for humor or soft, conversational prose. Well, the great news here is that humor and conversational prose are what most card editors want from their freelance writers. While you see poetry on the racks, these are mostly the domain of Hallmark and American Greetings, both of whom have staff writers who supply them with their rhymed needs. That and of course, the recycle factor—rhymed verses are recycled with updated art work slapped on the front. (When you’ve been around long enough, you won’t be hallucinating if the eerie thought hits you: Didn’t I send this sappy verse to my actor boyfriend in 1974—the one I thought I couldn’t exist without? It probably was).

As far as drawing, the only thing I draw anymore is a blank. I wish I were exaggerating when I tell you my drawing skills are truly pathetic. I’d draw an alligator and my kids would ask what that poor chicken was doing crawling in the water. This fallacy stops many aspiring card writers; I get a steady stream of emails asking what happens if you can’t draw. My answer: Nothing. (Oddly enough, I never get asked if would-be writers have to supply the photographs that so many of today’s cards carry on their fronts). Editors don’t want “the entire package” from one freelance person; they prefer keeping words and images separated. As a card writer, you may often receive an assignment to write verses from existing images, either drawn or photographed. If you submit a verse that relies on a visual to get its meaning across, you’ll have to be able to describe that image succinctly—in no more than two sentences (one is better). In the pre-computer days, writers would submit a single verse on a 3x5” index card—not much room there for wordy descriptions. And while that submission process is by and large obsolete, it still provides an excellent rule of thumb for K.I.S.S.—Keep It Short, Sweetie.

When I ask students to name some card companies, Hallmark and American Greetings top the list. That’s natural—since they’re #1 and #2 respectively. Most people are aware of Blue Mountain Arts (now known as SPS Studios) and then answers trickle to nothing. The Greeting Card Association estimates there are 3,000 card companies in the United States—they range from the giants to the “stacked on the kitchen table while the chili’s cooking on the stove” companies. And while many mid-size, independent companies have been scooped up by these two giants, there are still a lot of companies simply aching for solid freelance submissions.

Unless you write the unique 36-40 line verses that became synonymous with SPS (and which almost every company has imitated), most of your card verses, whether soft prose or humor, will run no more than 30 words—and most of the time much shorter. The payment per humorous verse runs anywhere from $40 to $200 ($300 in some cases, if you’re willing to wait for a testing process), with the average being around $75-$100. Soft prose generally runs less, somewhere around $60-$75. As far as payment per word then, do the math. I’ve written features for major magazines, such as A&E’s Biography, where I was paid $1/per word. By comparison, for a two-word verse (with accompanying visual suggestion), I received $150—or $75/per word. Sure, I use that for effect, but it’s an accurate effect. The payment in this genre simply can’t be matched.

There are other perks, of course, to greeting card writing. You get to write short sentiments present at all life’s major milestones. Your words will be “adopted” by strangers who will call them their own. Words they may be unwilling—or unable—to say for themselves. As a greeting card writer, you also get to work with some of the country’s most exciting artists, photographers and cartoonists. Through the years, I’ve been in contact with folks whose visual work I’ve admired from afar.

Before I officially get you started by providing some companies that want—and need—your verses, here are some of my own personal favorites I’ve sold through the years.

Woman Friendship (Louie-Award Winner...our industry’s highest honor)
O: Frazzled woman staring at her children in bed.
Verse: If only I could think of them as sleeping...
I: ...instead of recharging. (© Current Inc. 1991)

Get Well (Louie-Award Nominee)
O: Wide-eyed Dad with two small children looking at reader.
Verse: There are many reasons for you to get well. Your family loves and needs you, your family is worried about you...
I: ...your family is totally unsupervised in the kitchen. (© Current Inc. 1992)

Boss’ Day
O: I like having you for a Boss...
I: ...compared to my Mother, you hardly ever tell me what to do. Happy Boss’ Day! (© Renaissance 2002)

Get Well
I: Get plenty of rest...and rest assured, others love and care for you. Get Well Soon. (© Renaissance 2003)

Woman Friendship
O: I watch exotic male dancers for the same reason I read travel magazines.
I: I like to look at places I’m never gonna visit. (© Gibson Greetings 1995)

Is your interest piqued? I hope so. Below are a few companies to get you started. (Remember, freelance policies can—and do—change).

Tell Tale Press, Inc.
P.O. Box 5434
Takoma Park, MD 20913
Ongoing writing contest for “the art of telling stories” based on scenarios from their greeting cards.
Visit: www.telltalepress.net for complete details.

SPS Studios, Inc.
(Blue Mountain Arts)
Dept. SML, P.O. Box 1007
Boulder, CO 80306-1007
Send blank email to writings@sps.com with “Send Me Guidelines” in the subject line.
To submit work, email to editorial@sps.com (no attachments, please)

Papyrus (Formerly Marcel Schurman/Schurman Fine Papers)
500 Chadbourne Road
Caller Box 6030
Fairfield, CA 94533
http://www.papyrusonline.com/category/about+papyrus/artist+submission+guidelines.do#2
For actual submissions—Attn: Text Editor

I think you’ll love greeting card writing if you give it a chance. You don’t have to do it full-time; it doesn’t have to be your end-all. However, it’s great “break writing”—something to have in front of an editor while working on that novel, short story or non-fiction article.

If you want to learn more, feel free to visit my site: www.greetingcardwriting.com or write: sandra@greetingcardwriting.com.

Thank you, Donna, for inviting me and I wish all your readers a creative 2008 and into the years beyond.

8 comments:

Colorado Writer said...

This is wonderful info. Thanks very much for sharing!

Hannah T. said...

I agree--fantastic. I hadn't thought about this before.

Lisa said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing.

Have you ever heard of SquidNote? It's a free group greeting card site where you can have a bunch of people sign a card. Like an electronic version of the office card you pass around. You can even add a gift card for everybody to contribute to.

http://www.squidnote.com

Cheers!
Lisa

Jessica Burkhart said...

Great post! :)

PAMELA ROSS said...

I am so thrilled to read (once and again) the great words and great wisdom of Sandra Louden.

Thank you for bringing Sandra to your blog, Donna. {}

And to Sandra: I miss you! {}
It is so painful to fall in and out of people's lives.

It is a joy to see you here.

-Pamela Ross
(followed the link from Verla's Blue Board)

Rachel said...

Thanks! This is something I would like to look into.

Sandra said...

Thank you all for your upbeat messages. When Donna invited me, I was so pleased. I've never heard of SquidNote, but I'll definitely check that one out. And Pamela...I'm very happy to see you. I attended the Stationery Show in NYC several years ago. Pamela and her family graciously opened their home--and their hearts-during my stay. Thank you all again for your warm remarks. And Donna, what a nice lift during this winter that seems to have no end.

Wild About Words said...

My pleasure. Thank you, Sandra, for taking the time to share your expertise with our blog readers. And thanks so much for all the nice comments!
Donna