There are two emotional aspects to sentiment a greeting card can convey. The visual aspect, and the written word. Both complement each other in a way that makes the sum greater than the parts.
We have all looked at cards and thought ‘I could do that!’
When you think of artists for greeting cards, you often think of someone drawing, painting or creating something with software, allowing their imaginations to flow and turning thoughts into images that will sell. But writing the words for a greeting card, both on the cover an inside is also an art and arguably a tougher gig. A writer of greeting cards has to understand sentiment, humour, emotion, grammar, tone and much more – how to convey a message in a few words with the appropriate image from the sender to the recipient.
However, it is hard to get a piece of writing published. It is only when you decide to have a go yourself that you come to appreciate that, somewhere along the line, talent and skill actually come into it.
In this guide, we’ll explain some of the practical aspects of becoming a writer for greeting cards.
Where to start
First decide what style of greeting cards you want to write for. What’s your forte? What are you best at? Usually the best way to start is by acknowledging your strengths. Even if you can turn your hand to any style there will usually be one at which you excel. Are you a humour writer, or a poet? Do you like to write prose or short verses? What occasions do you want to write for? You’re not limited to a single style or genre, but it’s worth understanding your strengths so you can market your work to publishers appropriately.
Research the market
Take a look in your local high street card shop. See who the publishers are in the market you are aiming for and take a note of who they are. Most publishers do print their brand names and sometimes web addresses on the reverse of the card. It is worth jotting down as much as you can. This is important, you can imagine how unprofessional it would look to send a punchline to someone whose cards are blank!
It is a good idea to visit one of the greeting card trade fairs, where you will find a great variety of publishers under one roof. This will help you to target the best publishers for your style of writing. Some publishers will be happy to discuss your ideas on their stands, others not so much. Be aware, exhibiting is an expensive business and that publishers are there to sell their cards – never interrupt a sale, and don’t hang around a publisher stand for long periods of time! Just make a note of the publishers you are interested in approaching so that you can contact them later.
Here’s a list of popular trade fair for greeting cards.
Trade magazines are another great way to get to know who the publishers in the greeting card industry. The editorial and advertisements will provide you with an immediate insight into publishers, new products, industry issues and news of the day. They often carries advertisements of publishers looking for freelance designs and verses.
Progressive Greetings publishes special supplements such as an annual ‘Words and Sentiment’ supplement and a ‘Focus on Humorous cards’ which you may also find useful.
Making the Approach
Having done your initial research, the next step is to see what the demand is. Take a look on the GCA Jobs board to see if any publishers are currently looking for writers. Or have a look in our Members Directory for publishers that match your style, and then introduce yourself, you could email them, or better still, write to them!
All card ranges are created many months before they appear in the shops. Publisher’s requirements also change all the time. Cards are highly seasonal and the copy isn’t written during the traditional seasons we enjoy eg. Publishers may need Christmas verses in July!
The best idea is to phone or write a brief letter to the publisher simply asking for their current editorial guidelines. When sending in your work, always enclose a stampled addressed envelope (SAE) if you want it returned. The easier you make the editor’s day the better. Ensure the envelope is large enough for your work to fit back into and has enough stamps on it to cover the postage.
Styles and Occasions
There are generally three styles of writing in greeting cards:
- Prose and
There is also a wide range of occasions to write for. When writing for a particular occasion, the copy must be appropriate to that sending situation. Label your work with the sending occasion – even though your writing may make perfect sense to you, it may not to someone else!
Research is important, there is no point in sending a punchline to a publisher who is looking for an eight-line verse for Mother’s Day.
Ask yourself, prior to submission, whether your work is like anything you have ever read before. If you can honestly say ‘no’, you may be on to a winner! Writing for greeting cards is highly specialised. What you write must be original and unique to you, whilst still remaining appropriate to the sending situation and the house style of your chosen publisher.
When sending your work to publishers to review, think hard about how you will come across – not just in what you write, but how your work is presented.
Verses and Prose
Every page of work must bear your name and address. Submissions can get separated or mislaid. Consider the amount of copy publishers receive each week – it can be sackfulls!
Your work must be type written and kept plain and simple – no decorative borders, as it is the writing that is of interest. Keep it all on one page only, if possible. Verses range from four, eight and twelve lines – some verses can be longer. Prose is about the same – it can be brief or very lengthy.
Jokes are best presented in Page 1 and Page 3 format to give an overall opinion on the impact. Make a mock-up card from a folded piece of A4, type the first half of the joke on the front (Page 1) and type the punchline on the inside (Page 3). If you don’t laugh when you have opened your dummy card, the idea is unlikely to sell. Number each joke and its corresponding punchline. This makes it simpler when selling an idea. As with verses and prose, each piece of paper must contain your name and address.
Some publishers will accept jokes on A4. Fit as many as you can on one sheet and number them.
Submitting your work
Make sure you have followed the above guidelines and those of the publisher, if you have them.
Don’t send more than six samples, or more than can comfortably fit into an A4 envelope. As mentioned earlier, ensure you have enclosed an appropriately sized SAE, if you wish your work to be returned. Never send originals. Send a covering letter, but keep it brief and concise, anything longer will not be read and may put the publisher off. If you have been published before, it worth mentioning this in your letter. Expect to wait up to six weeks for a reply. Please don’t ring the publisher two days after you have sent your masterpiece. Be patient!
It is always advisable to keep copies of everything you have sent out and maintain records of what you have sent to whom, where and when. This will come in handy when you sell an idea that you may have issued to a few publishers at the same time. If it is bought, you must inform the other publishers that that idea is no longer available for consideration.
This varies so much from publisher to publisher. Ask yourself, are you in it for the money or just the pleasure of seeing your work in print. Most of us, realistically, want both, and it is possible to make a living at this.
Punchlines require a special skill and earn more – up to £150 per idea. Verses are usually paid by the line or a one off fee is offered. This can be 50p per line to £25 per verse. Some humour publishers pay according to how many jokes you have had published by them. Eg. Your first ten acceptances may earn £100 each, your next ten may go up to £125 and when you have had twenty published in one year your fee could rise to £150. There is money to be made here – but you have got to be good!
Most publishers purchase work outright and you instantly lose ownership of the copyright of that piece. Some, however, do pay royalties and others are willing to negotiate either way. If they wish to publish your work it is worth asking about this.
Once your work is accepted, you will probably be asked to send an invoice. Writing is a business, you are generating an income that must be declared. It is advisable to enquire with the Inland Revenue to see if you need to pay tax on this income.
Do’s and Dont’s
- Do your homework. A little time spent researching the market will save you a lot of time, money and frustration in the long run.
- Do ring up or write to the company prior to sending copies of your work to check whether or not they receive freelance work, what their guidelines are and to whom they should be addressed.
- Do put your name and address of every piece of work.
- Do enclose correctly sized and stamped SAE if you want your work returned.
- Do agree how you will be paid
- Don’t ever send originals.
- Don’t waste your time sending a long letter of introduction. It invariably will not be read.
- Don’t be discouraged if you hear nothing for a while – publishers receive huge amounts of submissions and it can take them a few weeks to respond.
- Don’t sell two publishers similar copy. A bad reputation will follow you around.
- Don’t take rejection personally.
If you have the talent, then follow the advice above and with practice and determination you may find yourself earning a lucrative income stream from writing for greeting cards!
Publishers looking for writers
Are you a publisher looking for writers? Remember to advertise your vacancy, even if it’s part time or commission based, on the GCA jobs board. You can do this by logging in to your account and clicking Jobs.
This article was first published on 15th October 2015, and updated on 5th December 2020.