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Greeting Card Writer

Persistence pays for greeting card writers. Single verses may earn $200, but writers may need to submit hundreds of verses to sell just one.

Successful greeting card writers create a conventional or humorous message that captures an individual buyer's sentiment, yet has appeal to a broad audience.

A Second Look at Sentiment

At first glance, the greeting card industry seems like a large market for writers. Americans spend about $7.5 billion a year on greeting cards, according to the Greeting Card Association.

It may be a big market, but many of the bigger card companies such as Hallmark are not currently accepting freelance submissions.

Holly Davis, the writing manager for a card company, notes that humor and alternative editors have always purchased the most freelance material. "But I've found that writers are more likely to make sales if they submit the material they understand and write best, regardless of our relative need."

At First Greeting

No specific education or background is required to be a successful greeting card writer. The first step is to request and analyze editorial guidelines. The Writer's Market is a good source of greeting card markets open to freelancers.

Study what greeting card companies currently publish, according to Mila Albertson of the Greeting Card Association. A sweet and sentimental card isn't appropriate for a company that specializes in off-color humor, and vice versa.

What makes a greeting card verse a winner? Mass appeal is one key to selling it. "The same birthday message has to sell in Yonkers, New York; Richmond, Virginia; and Montgomery, Alabama," says Albertson.

Tricia Mullin of Gibson Greetings echoes this thought: "In the greeting card business, 'sendability' means sales," she says.

"In alternative humor, we try to produce cards that can be sent from just about anyone to just about anyone with few limitations. Some writers submit ideas that are too specific or limiting in sendability."

In general, greeting cards are submitted in batches, either on index cards or as a list. Some companies require a signed disclosure statement before they will review submissions.

The whole batch may be rejected, or the editor may hold on to a few verses for consideration. Writers can then review the rejected batch, rewrite where necessary, and send it to another company. Careful tracking of submissions helps.

A Writer's Life

When Diane Standish saw an ad for greeting card writers on the Internet, she thought: "I've certainly bought enough in my lifetime. Maybe I can write them, too!"

It took Standish two years to make her first sale to Gibson Greetings for $150. Since then, she's sold many more verses, with hundreds more in circulation.

Standish works from an office in her Connecticut home, complete with computer, fax and Internet connection. It's a full-time job, with occasional hours in the evening.

The flexible schedule is a plus, but a good work ethic is important. "You have to have the motivation to work from your home and not to goof off."

Since earnings from greeting card writing can be sporadic, many writers supplement their income with other opportunities. Standish spends half her time on greeting cards -- she works on other writing projects the rest of the time.

Claire Turcotte is a part-time laboratory technologist and a mother of two. It took her nine months to sell her first card, writing about six hours a week. She sells to companies like Gibson.

Turcotte also writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. She notes that one advantage to greeting card submissions is the quick response time, compared to other writing genres. "You usually know within a few weeks if they will buy your greetings or not."

Marc Dabagian works as a graphic designer during the day, writing greeting card verses after hours. Although females purchase over 80 percent of greeting cards, Dabagian says it's not a problem writing for women.

"You're writing for a wide market and so much humor evolves from stereotypes -- there aren't too many 'women secrets' that would exclude a male from writing effectively."

Don't Give Up Your Day Job

A writer can earn anywhere from $15 to $200 for one greeting card verse, depending on the type of greeting and the company. Despite the potentially high rate per verse, it's a difficult way to earn a living.

"I certainly don't think that a writer can make a living with just greeting card writing, unless he or she is working on staff for a company," says Turcotte.

Rejection is an unavoidable part of the job. Mullin points out that even their most successful writers have a great deal of material rejected. Acceptance of a verse can be dependent on the artwork required to illustrate it, an editor's style, the quality of the verse itself and the submission's timing.

"Often we have to reject great ideas only because they don't fit our exact needs at the time," Mullin says.

Industry Trends

"Beyond a doubt, the strongest movement I've seen in my 18 years with greeting cards has been towards alternative cards," says Davis.

Alternative is anything a bit different from the big manufacturers' core card lines. Other trends include niche marketing, "edgy" humor, and a heightened interest in spirituality, according to Davis.

The emergence of Internet e-mail greetings adds another twist to the industry. "Electronic card sending hasn't affected paper-product card sales, but it has the potential of doing so," says Davis. "Card writers are wise to keep an eye on this aspect of the business."


Greeting Card Association
Industry info

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