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I Used to Get Paid to Write Greeting Cards — Here’s How You Can Get Started
It was the last straw.
I was at a store sifting through birthday cards for my niece. I saw one with a cat on the outside and thought, Courtney likes cats. This could work.
Then I opened. “Here’s hoping you have a purrrrrfect birthday!”
I felt duped. How many times have I seen a cat greeting card that plays off of that one stupid pun? And, even worse, someone got paid to write that!
That’s when I determined that one way or another I was going to get paid to write greeting cards.
The Search for the Greeting Card Writing Side Hustle
A quick Google search led me to lists of greeting card companies open to freelance writer submissions.
From there, it was up to me to research each company. I wanted to see what kind of cards they sold. Are they funny? Do they go for the emotions? Do they use poetry or not? This is an important step because you don’t want to waste your time or the company’s by submitting work that doesn’t fit the company’s image.
Once I found some prospects, I looked for the submissions page.
I can’t stress this enough: You need to look at how the company wants submissions sent in and follow the instructions perfectly.
In one instance, I had to write out some of my greeting card ideas on note cards and send them all in. I figured if they were that old-school, they may not get as many submissions so it was worth the extra work. In the end, it wasn’t. Not at all. I spent hours handwriting my ideas on note cards and didn’t make a single sale. I didn’t even hear back from them, but they may have been using the Pony Express, so it could still happen.
Start With Birthday Cards
Now for the fun part — the writing.
Even though most companies sell cards for a number of occasions and holidays, birthday cards are always the biggest need. But how do you come up with new and original ideas? I knew that I wanted to focus on funny cards, as that’s what I like to buy.
Think about your life. Your friends. Your family. Try to pinpoint funny little moments or conversations. Think of the audience for your cards. Does the brand you are submitting to cater to women, men or kids?
I remember one female friend of mine throwing a fit because a cashier called her ma’am. Why? Because to her ma’am equalled old. Light bulb!
“It’s finally official!” I wrote on the front. Then, when the recipient opened it up it said, “Ma’am!”
Other cards took a slightly racier tone. “The best and the worst birthdays can end up the same way…” said another card’s front. The punchline? “In handcuffs!”
Yeah, they weren’t cards you would send to your grandma for her 80th. But then again, I don’t know your grandma.
What do Greeting Card Companies Want from Writers?
We know what we ourselves think is funny or touching, but that doesn’t mean what we come up with is going to work for other people.
To get a glimpse of what it’s like on the other side, I spoke with Nicky Burton, managing director at Calypso Cards.
“They really do have to be original,” she said. “They have to have something fresh. We can’t keep going back to gray hair and over the hill.” She further noted that Calypso Cards accepts “less than 1% of what we read.”
Yikes. Read that last line carefully. Less than 1% of what they read.
Why? Because people either don’t understand the card line that they’re trying to write for or their writing is cliche. I wrote for Calypso Cards’ Selfish Kitty line which has a very specific style. It’s a sort of, “I bought you a card, but I’m all about me” kind of vibe.
“The outside is quite innocent and the inside is a twist that makes you laugh,” Burton said in an email. “Innocent, tongue in cheek, never cruel or degrading. We get an awful lot of submissions from people who have clearly not researched the line.”
She added, “We look for smart, ORIGINAL type jokes, i.e. not tired age-related, heard it before stuff.”
The Harsh Reality of Writing Greeting Cards
Did I make money writing greeting cards? Yes, I did.
Did I make a lot of money writing greeting cards? No, I did not.
I sometimes sent in as many as 70 ideas for various holidays or occasions and would get a response saying, “We really like these three ideas.”
Since they paid $50 per accepted idea, that’s a whopping $150. Sometimes I did better. Sometimes I didn’t sell anything at all.
They also sent me several samples of each card, so if you know someone who’s having a baby, I can hook you up. I only know so many people.
By the way, many card companies won’t respond unless they want something you’ve submitted. If you struck out, you won’t hear about it. Don’t pester them with inquiries because it won’t win you any friends.
Any ideas you don’t sell to one company, you can send in to another. But, remember to be sure the writing fits the card line and don’t submit the same ideas to multiple companies at once. That could lead to a mess you don’t want on your hands.
The truth of the matter is, for most of us, writing greeting cards can be a fun and interesting side hustle as long as you enjoy it. You won’t make a ton of money and you’ll have to put in a fair amount of time coming up with new ideas. But if you enjoy it, why not? Give it a shot.
Good luck and happy writing!
Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. Next on his bucket list is singing the national anthem at a baseball game. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.