Learn How to Write Greeting Cards!

Writing greeting cards is a great way to satisfy your creative urges and earn some extra money to boot. If you’re like most people, you’re convinced that you could write Birthday cards just as good as the ones down at the local drugstore. But, like most people, you don’t know how to get started.

By the time you finish reading this eBook, you’ll not only know how to get started in greeting card writing, you’ll know how to be successful at it too.

Click here to order this content as an eBook on Amazon for just 99 cents! In it, you’ll find:

• Nine basic rules that must be followed when writing greeting cards
• Eight insights that will help you better understand the greeting card business
• Eleven business tips that will help you present yourself as a professional
• Sixteen techniques that you can use to write greeting cards that sell
• Techniques for writing T-shirts, buttons, coffee mugs and Post-it notes
• Dozens and dozens of examples of cards and related products I’ve sold to all the major greeting card companies

Below are excerpts from the book to give you an excellent idea of what to expect.

Unless otherwise noted, all the card ideas presented in the book were written by my weekly card-writing group or an individual within the group. All these ideas were sold to a major greeting card company. Click here to gain some insight into how our group operated.

Click here to read my Q&A interview about greeting card writing with the Renegade Writer website.

Click here for a funny story about me hearing Wayne Dyer mention one of my birthday cards during an interview.

This post is the entire contents of my book, How to Write Humorous Greeting Cards.

Let’s start with the nine basic rules that must be followed when writing greeting cards. Some are more important than others but all of them must be taken into consideration.

RULE #1: A greeting card has to be sendable. This is the cardinal rule in the greeting card business. When you come up with an idea for a card, stop and think for a moment: can you envision yourself sending this card to an actual person? It may be very funny but if it’s not sendable you won’t sell it. Let me give you an example that a friend of mine submitted to me:

COVER: Hey, lookin’ for a good card? Don’t take that pink card over there, pick me, the yellow card! I’m a great card! I can do anything! You want me to wish somebody a happy birthday? No problem! Watch this . . .
INSIDE: Happy Birthday!

This card may be funny to the person who’s browsing in the card shop but imagine actually getting this card; imagine taking it out of the envelope and reading it. From that perspective, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not a sendable card. You’ll save greeting card editors a lot of work by weeding out these “non-sendable” ideas yourself.

RULE #2: The card has to have a “me-to-you” sentiment. You’ll be much more successful at writing cards if you get in the habit of using the word “you” more often than the word “I”. Sure, you’ll see some cards where the joke is about what happened when “I” went looking for a present or what “I” think about getting older. There are always exceptions but the vast majority of successful cards have a strong me-to-you message because greeting cards are about relationships. Here are some examples:

COVER: Happy Birthday! I’d like to borrow your secret for looking so young.
INSIDE: I mean, since you’re not using it.

COVER: Know what I find attractive in a man?
INSIDE: Just look in the mirror.

COVER: Happy Birthday to my Older Brother! You may not know this, but you’re responsible for my very existence!
INSIDE: Mom and Dad knew they could do better.

COVER: Happy Birthday, Mom! I sure wish you’d start acting your age!
INSIDE: I’m getting tired of having people ask me if you’re my sister!

RULE #3: Do not lose sight of the message of the card. Let’s look at the four examples we just saw. Each of them has a specific message:

* You’re lookin’ real old!
* You’re everything I want in a man.
* You’re older but I’m better.
* You look terrific, Mom!

You can’t lose sight of the message when you’re writing a card. If you start out writing a friendship card and you end up with an insult instead of an expression of friendship, the card won’t sell, no matter how funny it is.

These first three rules are by far the most important: In order for a card to be sendable, it has to have a me-to-you sentiment and the message of the card has to be clear.

RULE #4: Be as general as possible. If you write a card that begins with, “Wow! You’re 50!” you can improve it by adding just one word: “over”: “Wow! You’re Over 50!” By adding one word, you’ve broadened your market considerably because there are far more people over 50 than exactly 50. There are age-specific cards, of course, for 30th, 40th and 50th birthdays, for example, where a specific age does need to be specified. For example:

COVER: Wow! You’re 50! Did you realize that when Mozart was 50, he had already written 41 symphonies, 27 concertos, 16 operas and had been dead for fifteen years?
INSIDE: Have a nice day.

Obviously, the card wouldn’t be as effective if it said that Mozart had been dead for “quite some time” as opposed to “fifteen years.” Generally speaking, though, the more general your card idea is, the happier an editor will be.

Here’s another example. If you’ve written a card for an older brother, see if the idea will work if you take out the word ‘older.’ That way, the card can be sent to younger brothers too. Or even toss out the word ‘brother’ and start it with, “When we were growing up . . . ” Then the card could also be sent to sisters.

You can also make your ideas more general and sendable by eliminating, whenever possible, the words “I” and “We,” which unnecessarily limit the target audience. Your card idea has a much better chance of selling if it can be sent by either one person, a couple, or a group.

RULE #5: Be brief. Most card companies encourage their writers to say what they want to say in as few as words as possible. Why? When people are browsing in a card store, they want to read as many cards as possible; they’ll probably skip longer-copy cards because they take too long to read. But I really think there’s a market for cards with longer-than-usual copy because you have more room to craft a funny idea and draw the reader in.

Having to stick to only a sentence or two is also very limiting. Unfortunately, only a few card companies have realized that a lot of copy can be effective. I should add, however, that I’m only talking about the outside of the card here. It is a good idea to be as brief as possible on the
inside of the card. Yes, there are exceptions but not very many. Here are a couple of “long copy” cards that I sold:

COVER: WARNING! This birthday card has been treated with very powerful chemicals that cause wild, unpredictable behavior almost immediately upon contact. If you have touched this card, these chemicals have already begun seeping into your bloodstream through the pores on your fingertips. By the time you finish reading this sentence, you will be seized by an uncontrollable desire to rip off your clothes and jump naked into the arms of the first person who wishes you a Happy Birthday.
INSIDE: Happy Birthday!

COVER: As I was handing my credit card to the salesperson at the very exclusive shop where I was purchasing your birthday present, I realized that giving you such a valuable present would put a lot of pressure on you to reciprocate when my
birthday rolled around. Being the kind of person I am, I didn’t want to put you through that much stress so I grabbed my credit card back and just bought you a card instead. No, no, there’s no need to thank me. After all, what are friends for?
INSIDE: Happy Birthday!

This is a very important point to ask editors—whether or not they accept cards with a lot of copy. Before you talk to an editor, however, do your homework. Familiarize yourself with that particular card company to get an idea of the type of humor and writing style they’re looking for. We’ll be talking about how to do that by sending for writers’ guidelines.

RULE #6: Be funny! Being funny on a consistent basis is the biggest challenge facing greeting card writers. If you can tackle any subject and come up with a funny idea to build a card around it, you’ll be on your way! For example:

COVER: We could celebrate your birthday by having hot, passionate sex all night long.
INSIDE: Or we could spend the evening together.

COVER: Happy Birthday to my Sister! When we were kids, you used to tease me all the time. And now that we’re grown up, there’s something I really ought to tell you.
INSIDE: I used to put boogers in your hot chocolate.

COVER: Don’t be surprised if Santa doesn’t make it to your house this year.
INSIDE: You know how men are about asking directions.

COVER: Don’t think of this as just a Father’s Day card.
INSIDE: Think of it as a Father’s Day card and an envelope.

COVER: What would a birthday card be without a little cash tucked
INSIDE: See for yourself.

COVER: Ever have one of those days when everything goes just the way you want it to?
INSIDE: What’s it like?

COVER: In honor of your birthday, I rented a limousine.
INSIDE: Look for me about 10:00. I’ll wave as I drive by.

COVER: Donny the Birthday Dinosaur thinks you’re looking younger every year!
INSIDE: Of course, Donny the Birthday Dinosaur has a brain the size of a walnut.

COVER: I heard you discovered the Fountain of Youth!
INSIDE: You must not have been very thirsty.

COVER: Our marriage will continue to have that magic in it as long as you keep whispering those three little words . . .
INSIDE: You’re always right. Happy Anniversary!

COVER: I thought you’d appreciate a very special birthday message from a woman of the new millennium.
INSIDE: Bake your own damn cake!

COVER: Don’t worry, Dad. I didn’t buy you some stupid gift for your birthday that you’ll never use.
INSIDE: I’m saving that for Father’s Day.

RULE #7: Be original! If there’s a number one reason why ideas are rejected, it’s because of a flat, predictable punchline that sounds like it was written thirty years ago.

The work begins on the cover of the card. If you start with a weak, tired premise, you’re probably going to have a weak, tired inside. Too many writers put themselves in a box because they start with something that’s overused. There are hundreds of greeting card writers, for example, who have started with the line, ‘You know you’re getting older when . . . ”

Another thing to avoid is cute little rhymes like “roses are red, violets are blue,” and well-worn catch phrases like “knock-knock jokes.” You better have a spectacular punchline to overcome such an overused setup; even if you did, however, it still might not work because people browsing through a card store probably wouldn’t even bother picking that card up. You’re better off starting with a premise you haven’t seen before.

It’s a struggle to come up with original ideas day in and day out. It’s much easier to “borrow” an idea that already exists. You must be careful, however, never to plagiarize an existing card no matter how tempting that may be. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t extract a card’s basic idea and rewrite it using a fresh approach. This is called “creative camouflage” and it’s an essential element of the greeting card business. If you’re ever in doubt, however, where to draw the line when using an idea that is not your own, err on the side of discretion. There is nothing that turns off a card editor more than recognizing a plagiarized card in your batch of submissions; one mistake will cast doubt upon the rest of your ideas.

Many people are attracted to greeting card writing because they’re
looking for a quick way to make some easy money. They think, “I may not be able to write Gone With The Wind but I can sure write a sentence.” But one sentence can take a lot of work and effort. Coming up with a funny, original premise is only half the battle; if you’re not able to express your idea clearly and concisely, you won’t be able to sell it.

RULE #8: Make ’em open the card! Imagine yourself browsing at a card store. You scan dozens of cards. Which ones catch your attention? Which ones are you going to pick up and open? Here are some cards that do a good job of arousing the browser’s curiosity:

COVER: Many years ago the Youth Fairy flew into your room, lit upon your pillow and, waving her magic wand, said, “This child shall be young forever!”
INSIDE: Then you rolled over on her and look what happened. Happy Birthday!

COVER: Oh Valentine, help a damsel out of distress . . .
INSIDE: . . . and into something more comfortable.

COVER: Birthdays always remind me of the giant redwoods on the west coast, the way they stand tall and proud year after year, century after century. Their majestic beauty never fails to take my breath away.
INSIDE: Thank you for planting them.

COVER: Nothing’s too good for you.
INSIDE: So that’s what I got you.

COVER: Rub this card up and down your leg a few times.
INSIDE: My dog wanted to wish you a happy birthday.

COVER: Father Time sure has been kind to you.
INSIDE: What did you do, sleep with him?

COVER: Tonight I’m going to fill my bathtub up with hot milk, toss in a few jars of cocoa, then take off all my clothes, jump in, and pretend I’m in a nice big cup of hot chocolate.
INSIDE: I think you’d make a great marshmallow.

We’ve already talked about the importance of making a card as general as possible. That applies to the artwork too. Is the person on the front a man or a woman? By making him/her a “neuter,” you’ve just doubled your potential audience. It can now be sent to either a man or a woman.

And, by the way, here’s an example of what I meant by “creative camouflage.” After selling that card, we thought, “They liked that one so let’s give ’em more of the same.” And we came up with this one:

COVER: Tonight I’m going to cover myself with coconut, jump into a jacuzzi filled with pineapple juice and pretend I’m a giant pina colada.
INSIDE: You’d make a great swizzle stick.

See what I mean? That’s the same card.

RULE #9: Put the message of the card on the front of the card. We’ve already talked about how the message of a card has to be clear. The best way to make that message clear is to put it on the front of the card: Congratulations on your new arrival! Merry Christmas! Happy Anniversary!

After all, if you’re in the card store looking for a Birthday card for your brother, the ones that say “Happy Birthday to my Brother” on the front of the card are the ones that you’ll look at first, especially if you’re in a hurry.

Even though this rule makes sense, don’t follow it blindly. Here’s an example of a card that wouldn’t be effective if the message was on the front of the card:

COVER: Talk about procrastination! I’ve written eight letters to you and never got around to sending them! So I gathered them all up and I’m finally sending them to you now!

Okay, now let’s take a look at eight insights into the card business.

INSIGHT #1: View your creativity as a bottomless well. Yes, there are fairly strict guidelines that must be adhered to when writing greeting cards. And yes, there are only so many categories of greeting cards. So what? Look upon these limitations as a creative challenge. There are only 88 keys on a piano but there’s no end to the number of arrangements you can create. And yes, it is possible to come up with new ideas for Birthday cards day after day, week after week, month after month. Your creativity is a bottomless well. Don’t allow yourself to think otherwise.

When you do begin to feel burned out, however, (and you will!) and you just can’t imagine coming up with one more great Birthday card, run to the nearest card shop and browse for half an hour. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your creative juices begin to flow. Reading other greeting cards helps to get you in the proper frame of mind and also gives you some new ideas for writing cards of your own.

Another way to enhance creativity is to engage in other creative activities. Take a break from writing every so often to draw,
paint, or take photographs. Your writing will benefit when you broaden your creative pursuits.

You can also recharge your batteries by enjoying the fruits of other people’s creativity. Read a book written by a favorite author. Lie down and breathe deeply while you listen to music. It will refresh you and inspire you to reach new heights of creativity.

And remember, if you do hit a brick wall and just can’t come up with more birthday ideas, try writing Mother’s Day cards. Or Post-it notes. Or Get Well cards. Switching gears like that can be helpful.

Writing greeting cards is a challenging business because the demand for new ideas never ends. You cannot rest on your laurels. If you come up with a great idea, painstakingly craft it and polish it until it sparkles, congratulations. Now do it again tomorrow . . . three more times.

INSIGHT #2: Write from your own experience. Always begin with your own relationships. With Mother’s Day cards, for example, think of your relationship with your mother. Think of the funny situations and the awkward situations you’ve had. If you write from your own experience, you’re more likely to strike a chord in other people because it will ring true. Looking through old family albums is a good way to stir up some good memories.

INSIGHT #3: Keep your eyes and ears open. In the course of a typical day, you’re bombarded by hundreds of ideas for greeting cards. You may hear a phrase from a nearby conversation that you can build a Friendship card around. You may hear a joke from a coworker that gives you an idea for a great Birthday card. You may see a happy couple strolling hand-in-hand down the street and get inspired to write an Anniversary card. When you train yourself to be more aware of what’s going on around you, your creativity will blossom.

After you do this for a while, your antenna will always be up. For example, I was dropping my daughter, Erin, off at junior high one morning. I needed to go in the school too, but she said, “No! Let me out, then wait five minutes before you come in!” So as I was sitting in the car waiting, I was thinking, “There’s got to be something here.” And sure enough, I came up with an idea for a button: My parents are more embarrassing than your parents! Of course, Erin and all her friends wanted one.

Another time I was telling Erin how cute she was. “In fact,” I said, “you’re Mega-cute.” And I thought to myself, Hmmm, that would make a good button.” And, sure enough, I sold it. Of course, I gave Erin half the money I got for those two buttons
because she was my inspiration. She was quite pleased.

INSIGHT #4: Be prepared! You never know when a great idea might strike! Always keep a mini-recorder or a notepad nearby—in your purse, in the glove compartment, by your bed, on the kitchen counter. Believe me, the first time you come up with a great idea and then can’t remember it an hour later when you finally get around to writing it down, you’ll swear that you’ll never be caught unprepared again.

That happened to me. I was lying in bed one night when I came up with a great idea for an Anniversary card. In fact, it was the best Anniversary card I had ever come up with! It was so good I knew I wouldn’t forget it. And besides, I didn’t want to disturb my wife by getting up and turning on the light so I could write it down. The next morning I got up and thought, Okay, time to write down that great idea! But it was gone and gone for good. Talk about frustrating—it was like throwing money out the window.

The next time I had a good idea and no way to write it down, I just reached for the phone, dialed my own number and left a message on my voicemail. I’m not going to make that mistake again. When you’ve got ideas brewing in your head, you never know when they’re going to start percolating!

INSIGHT #5: You don’t have to be a cartoonist to write greeting cards. A lot of greeting card writers are able to do some sort of cartooning. That can be a benefit because sometimes an expression on the character’s face can help sell the idea.

According to the editors I’ve talked to, however, a lot of cartoonists fall into the trap of depending too heavily on a visual. They start with a visual and then try to come up with a joke to fit. The opposite is much more effective: start with a humorous concept and then illustrate it.

The bottom line, however, is that a funny and sendable piece of copy is going to work regardless. The best cartoonist in the world can’t save a weak idea.

Because I use a computer to submit my ideas and because I can’t even draw stick figures, I just “paint a word picture” of the visual, put it in parentheses and in bold type.

INSIGHT #6: Sexism only works in risque, woman-to-man cards. The quintessential card of this type has been a big seller for Recycled Paper Greetings. I wish I could take credit for it:

COVER: Have you ever been attacked by a naked woman?
INSIDE: It can be arranged.

Turnabout, however, is not fair play. There’s no market for risque man-to-woman cards. Can you imagine a woman receiving this card:

COVER: Have you ever been attacked by a naked man?
INSIDE: It can be arranged.

I think not! But even if that card did exist, it would rarely be sent. Men just don’t send non-occasion cards, that sort of I’d like to get to know you better sentiment.

These insights drive home the point that it’s very helpful to write cards from a woman’s point of view, which is good news if you’re a women who’s trying to write greeting cards. You’re already a step ahead because more than 90 percent of greeting cards are bought by women.

It took me a while to write from the right perspective. When I first started writing cards, I submitted every old joke I could remember. One joke in particular was something that one guy would say to another:

COVER: Do you know what a satisfied woman sounds like?
INSIDE: I didn’t think so.

Now, obviously, that is not a sendable card. But as I increased my knowledge of the market, I started to train myself to think from a woman’s point of view—to the best of my ability, of course. And I realized a way to make that joke work:

COVER: Valentine, do you know what a satisfied woman sounds like?
INSIDE: Wanna find out?

Once you understand the psychology of the market and integrate what you’ve learned into your perspective, it becomes easier to know how to approach an idea and make it into a sendable card.

INSIGHT #7: Give editors what they want. The category of cards most sought after by editors is general birthday. A general birthday card doesn’t talk about getting older or offer false gifts or money. All it says is, “Happy Birthday.” The best ones can be sent to anybody from anybody.

A good example is Sandy Boynton’s card for Recycled. After the
words, “Happy Birthday” are two sheep: “Happy Birthday two ewe.”

Here’s one that we sold:

COVER: Happy Generic Birthday
INSIDE: Whoever you are

Seasonal cards, such as Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day, are also in demand but only at certain times of the year. When you first submit ideas to an editor, request that you be put on an e-mail list to be notified of seasonal card needs.

Other non-seasonal categories that editors are most likely to look at include Friendship cards, Thank You cards, Congratulation cards, Anniversary cards, Get Well cards and New Baby cards.

INSIGHT #8: Don’t waste your time writing cards that editors aren’t looking for. These include Apology cards, St. Patrick’s Day cards, Easter cards and Thanksgiving cards. Sure, once in awhile we get requests to do some of these but it’s pretty rare. It doesn’t make sense to spend time writing one of these cards when you could be writing birthday ideas or Mother’s Day idea or anything else that you have a much better chance of selling.

The editor I talked to at Hallmark told me he often gets pages and pages of nothing but Apology cards submitted. He doesn’t even look at them. Just think for a minute. When you walk into a card store, how many Apology cards do you see? One or two, right? There simply is not a high demand for Apology cards. A company’s in-house writers can handle that workload pretty easily.

Of course, if you come up with a fantastic idea for one of these categories, by all means submit it. Just don’t knock yourself out trying to do it. Here’s an Apology card and an Easter card that we did sell to Gibson Greetings:

COVER: In crossword puzzle format, the words: I’m very sorry
INSIDE: . . . for the cross words.

COVER: Happy Easter! Wasn’t it fun decorating eggs as a child? There was always something magical about it and the eggs always were so colorful and beautiful. Then, sadly, as I got older, I seemed to lose the knack for making the “perfect egg.”
INSIDE: I guess only the young dye good.

Some people do Moving cards or Bon Voyage cards and there’s just no market for them. Divorce card ideas can be very funny but they just don’t sell. You’ve got as many divorces as you do marriages and you’d think it would be a pretty good category to have fun with but it’s not something most people are willing to deal with in a
humorous way. If somebody wants to tell a joke about getting divorced, it has to be the person getting the divorce—nobody else, no matter how good a friend they are.

Now let’s take a look at the business side of the greeting card industry via these eleven business tips.

BUSINESS TIP #1: Buy or borrow Writer’s Market. When I wrote this how-to course, the current edition of Writer’s Market offered eight pages of detailed information on more than fifty greeting card companies that accept freelance material. Select the greeting card companies that appeal to you based on the description of their needs and payment terms. Then send a brief letter to each of those companies, asking them for their writers’ guidelines. And don’t forget to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope! Writer’s Market, incidentally, is available at any library.

BUSINESS TIP #2: Make a good first impression. A lot of people who submit cards don’t know how to freelance. That’s understandable because they’ve never done it before. For example, they don’t include a stamped, self-addressed envelope. They send a three-page letter about themselves when all the editor really wants to see is their ideas.

It’s important to keep in mind that editors review freelance submissions every day. If the way your material is presented doesn’t meet their standards, you get pegged as an amateur and your ideas may not get the scrutiny they deserve.

Take the time to ensure that your correspondence is neat and professional looking. If you do include a cover letter, limit it to one or two paragraphs. Make sure that your stamped, self-addressed envelope has enough postage on it.

Writer’s Market always has an article or two in the front of the book that tells freelancers how to present themselves as professionals.

BUSINESS TIP #3: Aim for quality over quantity. It pays to put a lot of thought into your ideas. If you’re writing dozens of ideas in a week’s time, you’re probably not spending enough time on each one.

Some people seem to think that quantity will assure them a sale. That simply isn’t the case. Too many mediocre ideas may dull an editor into overlooking one that might otherwise have promise.

The flip side, of course, is that some writers send in too few ideas, or even just one idea at a time. When someone pins all their hopes on a single idea, editors know they’re not dealing with a professional writer.

Editors generally agree that it’s best to submit six to fifteen ideas at a time. An editor will then be able to make a fair assessment of your abilities without getting overwhelmed by an avalanche of ideas.

BUSINESS TIP #4: Be persistent! Just because an idea is rejected by an editor or two doesn’t mean the idea isn’t any good; it just wasn’t the kind of idea that particular editor was looking for at that particular time. If you’re convinced it’s a good idea, keep it in the mail. I’ve sold more than three hundred ideas that had been rejected elsewhere, many of which I sold for $150 instead of the $75 I would have received if they would have been bought by the first company I sent them to.

It’s also a good idea to review your “holding tank” of ideas on a regular basis as your understanding of the market increases. Take a fresh, objective look at each one. Can it be improved? Should it be discarded? Can I convert that Anniversary card to a Birthday card? As you begin to get a feel for the business, those questions will become easier to answer.

Above all, keep your ideas circulating. Buy lots of stamps and always try to have submissions in the mail to two or three different greeting card companies at one time. This strategy, of course, will only work if you’re somewhat prolific because it’s not a good idea to submit a particular idea to more than one company at a time.

I found myself in a very uncomfortable position once when American Greetings wanted to buy a card that Hallmark had just purchased. I had sent the same idea to both companies simultaneously figuring that if I sent in fifty ideas, the odds of both of them picking the same card would be one in fifty. Wrong! That logic assumed that all the ideas were equal in quality, which was simply not the case. The best ideas jump off the page immediately.

Most greeting card companies will respond to your ideas within four to six weeks. If you haven’t heard anything in six weeks, don’t get confrontational or make the company feel defensive. Just call and say, “I submitted some ideas six weeks ago and I thought I’d check in to see if you’ve had a chance to look at them yet.”

BUSINESS TIP #5: Get used to rejection. Be prepared to fail a lot. You’re going to have to be prolific and you’re going to have to be resilient because a lot of your ideas are going to be rejected in the beginning.

Greeting card writing is a very subjective business. It’s not an exact science. Maybe the editor just got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. Maybe she thinks something is funny on Tuesday that she doesn’t think is funny on Thursday. That’s just the way it is. You have to keep your fingers crossed that your sense of humor isn’t half a bubble off from the editor’s. Then again, that’s something you may never know because you usually aren’t told why your ideas were rejected.

Individual responses are simply impractical. Critiquing every writer’s every idea would amount to a full-time job with plenty of overtime. Besides, noted the editor at Hallmark I interviewed, the writers who have more guts than talent wouldn’t want to hear what he’d have to tell them.

Many beginning writers forget that there have been a few hundred thousand cards that have been produced prior to them getting into the business so they fall into the trap of coming up with a lot of ideas that have been done before. Then they get really disappointed—but they shouldn’t because that actually is encouraging. You did come up with an idea that’s good enough to be on a greeting card. Someone else just beat you to it. But you’re on the right track; build on that.

By far, the most important factor in greeting card writing is maintaining a positive approach to your work. When you eagerly rip open a response from a greeting card editor only to find that all the ideas in the batch were rejected, don’t despair; instead, let that minor setback inspire you to try even harder the next time. And on those wonderful days when you do find a check in the mail, let your success inspire you to write even better cards.

You do get better at it. You do learn how it works. You can improve. You start to get a knack for it and get to the point where you somehow know that an idea hasn’t been done before. It’s not like you write thirty or forty cards and you’re tapped out. If you can do ’em, you can keep doing ’em.

And it’s important to keep in mind that even the more experienced writers have a very low batting average. But that’s okay. Most of the card companies pay $75 to $150 per card so a prolific card writer can earn hundreds of dollars per month on a part-time basis selling just one out of every ten or fifteen ideas.

BUSINESS TIP #6: Study the market! A good freelancer is as aware as the editors where the market is going. For example, in the early 70s, it was pretty common to put a woman in a bikini on the cover of a card. Now we’ve got hunks on cards. When did one stop and the other come in? Well, there wasn’t one day when that happened. It was a gradual process. Public attitudes and perceptions drive the greeting card market.

Drinking is another topic that is no longer appropriate for greeting cards. The editor at Hallmark told me about a card he wrote thirty years ago: ‘Wanna save time on your birthday? Skip the wine and the beer and just go out in the street and fall over.’ That was once considered a funny gag. Now the idea of getting so drunk that you can’t stand up is looked upon as pathetic. People who send in cards like that are behind the times.

A more recent development in the greeting card industry concerns women’s attitudes towards men. Putting men down, which I know is tremendously fulfilling, evolved into “male bashing.” But not that many years ago, Hallmark pulled a “male bashing” card after receiving a complaint about it. It read, “Men are scum. Excuse me, for a
minute there, I was feeling generous.” Now, granted, that is a little harsh. In the years since, male bashing cards have been toned down. They still sell, you just have to know where the line is and be careful not to cross it.

BUSINESS TIP #7: Concentrate on writing humorous cards. Very few freelance editors solicit non-humorous cards. Even though cards that feature serious prose or verse comprise the majority of the greeting card market, most of those cards are written by a greeting card company’s in-house staff. If you’re writing longer, serious copy, it’s always easier for an editor to work with a writer who’s nearby because serious cards require more editing than humorous cards. And it’s best for the writer to edit it herself because it’s written in her “voice.” If someone else tries to edit it, they risk tampering with that voice and the finished card might not ring true.

These kinds of cards are also easier to write. Once you get a feel for them, you can turn out many more good serious cards than good humorous cards. As I mentioned, staff writers can usually produce all the serious cards a company needs. Humorous cards are much more in demand from freelancers.

If you would like to try your hand at some serious cards, though, here are some rules to keep in mind:

* Begin with your own feelings. Think of how you felt when a friend needed you. Or when you needed a friend. Or when you lost someone close to you. Or when you fell in love for the first time. Or the second. Or the third. If you haven’t felt what you’re trying to write about, it won’t ring true.

* Write honestly, from the heart. These cards need to sound genuine. You won’t be able to “infect” other people with the emotion you’re trying to convey unless you’re writing with complete honesty. You have to be willing to bare your soul.

* Write with passion. You can’t write cards like this casually. You have to explore your own deepest feelings and “live” what you’re writing as you write it. That passion will come through loud and clear.

* Write simply. Write as if you were actually speaking. If you use flowery language like, “When I gaze up at the majestic beauty of the firmament,” you’re dead in the water. That won’t strike a chord in people. Read your words out loud when you’re done. Do they sound like something you would actually say to another person? Talk it before you write it.

Recycled Paper Greetings entered this market with a line of cards called ECHOES. I wrote a little more than a third of their first batch of eighty-some cards. Here are a few:

COVER: Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking of you . . .
INSIDE: In the stillness of the night, I lie awake, Thinking of how lucky I am to have you in my life, And how empty my life would be without you.

And admitting to myself that sometimes I take you for granted.

I think of all the little things you do for me that I may not seem to appreciate because I’m too caught up in my own life to stop and thank you like I should.

But here, in the quiet, in the dark, I realize how special you are, And I am overwhelmed with love for you.

Thank you for being you.

COVER: My life is richer for having known him.
INSIDE: The world has lost a beautiful person, and we have lost a beautiful friend.

I wanted to let you know that now, in your time of sorrow, I share your grief.

Although I mourn his passing, I will celebrate his life by remembering the many happy times we shared.

Now, more than ever, you need love and support, Now, more than ever, I am here for you.

COVER: It’s so nice to have a friend who understands me . . .
INSIDE: Whenever I have a problem I want to talk about or some wonderful news I can’t wait to share, you’re the first person I call.

I know I don’t have to explain anything to you. You’ll instantly recognize the importance of what I’m telling you and how it fits in with the rest of my life.

It feels so good to have you for a friend. Nobody knows me like you do.

If anything ever happened to you, There would be a hole in my life that nobody else could ever fill.

Here’s an example of what I meant when I said to be genuine. This is a letter I actually wrote to a friend of mine who was going through a tough time. When it came time to write these cards, I just went through my correspondence files and pulled this one out.

COVER: When you need a shoulder to lean on . . .
INSIDE: I just wanted to tell you That I know how difficult things have been for you And that I’m thinking of you.

When you need a shoulder to lean on, Do not hesitate to reach out for mine.

I will always be available to you, not as a crutch, for you are strong enough to stand straight and tall on your own, But as a pillar of support that you can lean against while you replenish yourself, until you are ready to face the world again.

BUSINESS TIP #8: Be comfortable with your method of submitting ideas. Every card company I’ve dealt with has requested that each idea be submitted on a 3×5 index card or on a sheet of paper folded in half, which is called a mock-up because the cover copy goes on the outside of the folded sheet and the inside copy goes on the inside, just like a real card. I have ignored these requests because, in the age of computers, these methods are obsolete. When you have a computer, it doesn’t make sense to submit ideas on 3×5 cards.

There are benefits, however, to submitting ideas as individual mock-ups of cards. An editor is far less likely to skip over a great idea if you force him to go to the work of turning a page to get to your brilliant punchline. If you just lay out your ideas on a sheet of paper like I do, you run the risk that the editor will scan your ideas too quickly, which tends to diminish the element of surprise that is so crucial for a card’s success. And if the card idea relies heavily on a visual and you have the artistic talent to bring it to life, then a mock-up may definitely be the way to go.

I don’t use mock-ups simply because they’re too time-consuming. If you’re at all prolific, you’ll find that you’ll be spending more and more time on making mock-ups and less and less time creating new ideas. It’s also harder to keep track of mock-ups. If you use a computer to store your ideas, you can simply number them to track them much more easily.

Another big advantage of using a computer to store and submit your ideas is editing. If you’d like to reword a sentence or correct a typo, no problem. Just tap a few keys and you’re done. If you’d like to edit a mock-up, you’ll likely have to throw it
away and start from scratch.

The bottom line: If you’re good, you don’t necessarily have to follow the rules. An editor is not going to reject a great idea as long as it’s presented in a professional manner. Whatever method you choose, however, be sure to include your full name and address or phone number on each index card, mock-up, or sheet of paper.

BUSINESS TIP #9: Be prolific. The more prolific you are, the more successful you will be. If all you want to do is sell one or two cards a month to satisfy your creative urges, great. If your goal is to make $1,000 a month, however, you’ll have to take a more serious approach. That’s what’s so great about card writing; it’s a very flexible business. You can dabble in it or pursue it full-time. You can take a week or a month or a year off if you feel like it. It’s always waiting for you when you’re ready to return.

Writing greeting cards is also very flexible in the sense that you don’t have to dress up and sit behind a desk in order to work. The best time to come up with card ideas is anytime you have a few minutes with nothing to do. You may be in the shower or driving to work or washing the dishes. Or you may sit down in your favorite chair with pen and paper in hand and kick back and relax. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing. Just begin by planting the seed—what kind of card would I like to send to my best friend?—and let the brainstorming begin. More often than not, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you come up with some good ideas.

The most effective way of managing your creative output is to set goals. However, stay away from time-oriented goals like, “I’m going to spend one hour every day writing greeting cards.” The phone rings, your kid needs some help, the doorbell chimes, and pretty soon the hour’s up and you’re feeling guilty for not being more productive. Instead, promise yourself that you’ll come up with three ideas a day. Then, whether it takes ten minutes or two hours, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment because you reached your goal and you can clear your mind for the rest of the day.

Another way to be more productive is to write with a few friends. Every Monday night for years, four to eight people came to my house to brainstorm ideas together. You’d be amazed at how quickly you can come up with a bunch of good ideas. One person might suggest a premise, somebody else might finish it off and a third person may suggest a way to polish it. If you sit down to write some cards by yourself, you may come up with three or four ideas; in the same amount of time, a group might come up with fifteen to twenty.

BUSINESS TIP #10: Trust your editor. The greeting card business
is built on trust. Many beginning freelancers are concerned that a card company may use their ideas without paying for them. If that ever does happen, it certainly is rare. Freelancers are the lifeblood of the industry. Companies are always on the lookout for good writers who can make money for them. It doesn’t make sense for a company to rip off an idea; they’d ruin their reputation and the best freelancers wouldn’t do business with them. Companies want to keep you happy so you can make lots of money for them in a long-term relationship.

From a legal standpoint, ideas can’t be copyrighted; only the expression of those ideas can be. That means that every original line you write is automatically copyrighted.

A copyright, however, does not prevent someone from taking your idea and producing their own version of it. Someone can take an idea, put it in a completely different visual presentation and allege that he or she thought of it first. It’s virtually impossible to enforce a copyright. If a person really wants to copy something, there are ways to get agonizingly close without going over the line.

For example, Gibson, the person I initially wrote for was once profiled in the local newspaper. The reporter asked him what his best-selling shirt was and Gibson told him it was, MY NEXT HUSBAND WILL BE NORMAL. Almost overnight, it seemed like other companies came out with the exact same shirt. I was up in Wisconsin Dells a month later and saw a ripoff of the shirt in a gift shop there. Here’s why that happened: ideas don’t get ripped off until they’ve been proven successful. As soon as unethical people find out that a product’s been making money, they’re going to rip it off. Gibson now refuses to say which of his shirts are doing well.

Another sign that a shirt is doing well is when it appears in a number of different catalogs in a short amount of time. A friend of mine called me to tell me she had just seen a woman in Oprah’s audience wearing a GARAGE SALE GODDESS shirt, which was written by a member of my group and generated over $12,000 for him. Unlike our version, the three words were in block letters with no artwork so someone obviously picked up on the fact that it was selling well and put out their own version of it.

Recycled Paper Greetings used to put their fifty best-selling cards on the wall at their headquarters in Chicago. People would come in the receptionist area, take out a notepad and copy everything down. The company wised up pretty quickly. They began posting an assortment of cards—their best, their worst and everything in between.

The bottom line: Don’t be concerned about getting ripped off. Except for T-shirts, which generate royalties, freelancers get paid upfront for their ideas. So if your idea is lifted from the company that paid you for it, it’s their loss, not yours.

BUSINESS TIP #11: Take advantage of the tax deductions available
to freelance writers.
The money you receive from selling cards is, of course, taxable income. You pay a little more on freelance income than you do when you work for somebody else because of FICA, the Social Security tax. If you work for an employer, only half of that tax is withheld from your paycheck and your employer matches that figure. When you freelance, you have to pay the entire tax yourself.

On the bright side, there are a number of deductions that freelance writers can claim, such as postage, long-distance phone calls, and your mileage to the post office when you drive there to mail your submissions.

If your annual profit from freelancing is roughly $1,000 or more, chances are you’ll have to pay quarterly estimated taxes; however, every individual’s tax situation is different. The person who prepares your taxes will be able to answer your questions in greater detail.

Now let’s examine sixteen techniques that you can use to write greeting cards that sell.

TECHNIQUE #1: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. As we discussed, more than 90 percent of greeting cards are bought by women so it’s definitely advantageous to think from a woman’s point of view. But you also better be able to think like someone who has a brother or like someone who just had a baby or like someone who is much older than you are. Broaden your scope and train yourself to think from someone else’s persepctive, If you only write cards based on your own life experiences and your own frame of reference, you’ll have limited success.

TECHNIQUE #2: Narrow your focus. The more specific your objectives are in each writing session, the more successful you’re likely to be. If you’d like to write some Birthday cards, for example, concentrate on ideas that make fun of a person’s age, or ones that are based on a gift, or ones that say how terrific someone looks. When you narrow your focus like that, your mind is less likely to wander and it’s usually easier to get started. Here’s a card I came up with when I concentrated on what people can expect as they get older:

COVER: WOW! YOU’RE OVER 40! Do you realize that, not too many decades ago, the life expectancy of a typical person was only 41 years old? Boy, when people got to be your age, they’d drop dead right on the sidewalk with no warning whatsoever. Imagine that.
INSIDE: Have a nice day.

TECHNIQUE #3: Poke fun at “old” people. Making fun of a person’s age may sound mean-spirited but in the context of a humorous
Birthday card, it seems to lose its offensiveness. Here are three Birthday cards built around insults that I sold to Hallmark (insults, by the way, work best in Birthday cards and Father’s Day cards).

COVER: Happy Birthday! You want me to tell you you’re looking younger every year? No problem. You want me to tell you you’ve got many, many productive years ahead of you? No problem. You want me to compliment you on your charming personality? No problem.
INSIDE: You want me to say all that with a straight face? Problem.

COVER: Growing old is a marvelous experience. You become wiser and more mature with every passing year as you add to a wealth of wonderful memories that add depth and meaning to your life.
INSIDE: I thought an old fart like you might appreciate some flowery crap now and then. Happy Birthday!

COVER: Sure, you’re another year older but look at the bright side! You don’t have to worry about getting chased around by older men.
INSIDE: There are no older men.

TECHNIQUE #4: Be kinder and gentler. Not everyone who buys a Birthday card wants to make fun of somebody’s age. If you can write warm, fuzzy Birthday cards that also manage to be clever, you’ll make editors very happy. Here are a few examples:

COVER: I put a dollar in this card for you because I figured if all your friends gave you a dollar . . .
INSIDE: . . . you’d be a millionaire! Happy Birthday!

COVER: At your age, it’s important for a good friend to take you aside, look you straight in the eye, and very openly and honestly tell you something that you may not be aware of . . .
INSIDE: You look terrific! Happy Birthday!

Of course, “kinder and gentler” also works for other kinds of cards too. Here are warm and fuzzy Anniversary and Valentine’s Day cards.

COVER: Happy Anniversary! If you take a close look at your little finger . . .
INSIDE: You’ll see that I’m wrapped around it!

COVER: Happy Valentine’s Day! If you were the only boy in the world and I was the only girl . . .
INSIDE: I’d like that.

You may have noticed that I emphasized “humorous” greeting cards in this post. You may also have noticed that the humorous category is a broad one. Humorous cards may be serious and sentimental as long as there’s a clever twist to them, no matter how subtle. Here are a few more examples of kinder and gentler humorous cards:

COVER: Do you know how wonderful and thoughtful you are?

COVER: I didn’t know I would fall in love with you . . .
INSIDE: .. . . so many times.

COVER: Thank you. That was very kind, considerate and thoughtful.
INSIDE: As usual.

Now, even though those cards seem pretty straightforward, if you look at them closely you’ll see that they all use an ever-so-slight twist to get their message across. When you open them, there’s a surprise. It’s very subtle but it’s there.

TECHNIQUE #5: Be nice to your mother! Greeting cards are a lot like life; you can always poke fun at Dad but don’t even think of taking a cheap shot at Mom. Here are a handful of Mother’s Day cards I sold:

COVER: Mom, since I moved away from home, I’ve come to appreciate many things about you that I guess I’ve always taken for granted: your kindness, your thoughtfulness, your wonderful smile. In fact, I’ve realized that there’s only one thing I don’t like about you . . .
INSIDE: You’re too far away. Happy Mother’s Day!

COVER: Thanks to you, Mom, I don’t get frustrated or angry anymore when something goes wrong in my life. I just take a deep breath, remain calm, and do what you always did . . .
INSIDE: . . . blame it on Dad. Happy Mother’s Day!

COVER: Mom, when I was little and you tucked me in at bedtime, you made me feel warm and safe and happy.
INSIDE: I like that in a Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

COVER: And so, members of the jury, I will prove to you that only the best mom in the world can open this card.
INSIDE: I rest my case. Happy Mother’s Day!

TECHNIQUE #6: Think risque. There is a market for cards that are risque. Of course, I mean mildly risque, not gross and disgusting. For example:

COVER: Happy Birthday! You know, it’s been proven that all men, deep in their subconscious mind, feel a desperate need to return to the womb.
INSIDE: Is tonight soon enough?

COVER: Now that you’re older, you’re going to find out about a new kind of foreplay.
INSIDE: It’s called begging.

COVER: In honor of your birthday, the drinks are on me!
INSIDE: And you get to lick them off!

Not all card companies, however, solicit risque humor. In a sense, there are two greeting card markets: there’s Hallmark and the rest of the world. Hallmark is by far the largest greeting card company and they set a very conservative tone. They’re trying to sell cards to every human being on earth and sometimes a card can do real well that might alienate a lot of people.

Twenty years ago, there wasn’t a market for risque humor at all. Then “alternative” card companies—Recycled being the largest—got a foothold in the market by being just a little more up-to-date and edgy. That trend eventually forced Hallmark to come out with Shoebox Greetings, which was Hallmark’s dramatic intro into the PG-13 market.

An important question, of course, is: How risque do you get? Well, a comic working Vegas will be different than a comic working the Tonight Show. How far you go depends on your audience; the same holds true with greeting cards. Read those writers’ guidelines carefully.

TECHNIQUE #7: Think in threes. Good joke writers know that punchlines have more punch if you set them up by using three examples. This rhythm rule also works for greeting cards. Here are three examples:

COVER: You’re breathing. Your heart is beating. You have two arms and two legs.
INSIDE: I like that in a guy. Happy Birthday!

COVER: You’re smarter than I am. You’re thinner than I am. You’re better looking than I am. You’re older than I am.
INSIDE: I win. Happy Birthday!

COVER: I could say you’re looking younger every year. I could say you look absolutely terrific. I could say you look better now than you ever have in your life. I could say all of these things . . .
INSIDE: . . . because they’re all true! Happy Birthday!

TECHNIQUE #8: Introduce a character and then explain its relevance. This kind of card is one of my favorites. Here are some examples:

COVER: This is Harry, the Birthday Horse. You and Harry have a lot in common. Harry used to be exceptionally trim and sleek, just like you. Harry used to be able to race with the wind, just like you. Harry’s slowed down over the last few years and has become quite a stud.
INSIDE: You should be so lucky.

COVER: (Drawing of a very old man) This is Floyd. Floyd is very, very old. He has no teeth, his mind wanders constantly, and he passes gas every fifteen minutes. Do you know what the difference is between you and Floyd?
INSIDE: About three years. Happy Birthday!

COVER: This is Manny. He has a stopwatch and a scale. Nobody knows exactly what it is that he does with these objects . . .
INSIDE: .. . . although it’s been said Manny times, Manny weighs, Merry Christmas to you!

TECHNIQUE #9: State your message simply and briefly inside the card and build up to it on the front of the card. These cards require excellent writing skills and a healthy dose of creativity. (Yes, this kind of card is an exception to Rule #9.) Some examples:

COVER: As Moses said to God after he parted the Red Sea, which allowed him to lead his people out of Egypt, where they had lived a miserable and degrading life as slaves, into the promised land, where they lived in freedom and prospered and changed the entire course of history . . .
INSIDE: Thanks

If you start with the word “Thanks” on the inside of the card, there are an infinite number of scenarios you could create where someone would say, “Thanks” to another person. You can use everything from historical characters to well-known fictional characters to characters you make up yourself.

COVER: Boy, was that a challenge! I stayed up all night writing and re-writing until I finally came up with the perfect words to express how I feel about you. No kidding! I must have looked up a thousand words in my dictionary and thesaurus until I found just the right combination that made everything tumble into place. But it was worth it! Because now when you open this card, you’ll know exactly what you mean to me.
INSIDE: I love you

Again, if you start with, “I love you” on the inside of the card, you can come up with lots of reasons to say it. The possibilities are limitless.

TECHNIQUE #10: Pull the old switcheroo. Let’s say you’re writing Valentine’s Day cards. You’re thinking of well-known quotes associated with the subject of love. This one pops into your head: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Switch a couple of words and you’ve got yourself a great card:

COVER: How do I love thee?
INSIDE: (Drawing of a weighing scale with a pan on each side. In each pan is Count Dracula.) Let me weigh the counts. Happy Valentine’s Day!

TECHNIQUE #11: Dare to compare. You want to write a Birthday card. First, you make a list of words and phrases that have to do with getting older. Hmmm, how about the word “mature.” Now, let’s see, what else matures besides people who are getting older?

COVER: Happy Birthday! I was going to give you a Savings Bond as a present but then I changed my mind.
INSIDE: I didn’t want to get you anything that will mature before you do.

TECHNIQUE #12: Give a new twist to an old cliche. Choose a cliche that everyone has heard, then play around with it until you come up with a fresh new angle. Even if you come up with a punchline that will make people groan, it will sell if you meticulously tweak it until it sparkles. Here’s an idea based on an old cliche that has a well-crafted, attention-grabbing cover that makes the
browser pick up the card and open it, which, of course, is half the battle:

COVER: The strangest thing happened to me on the golf course yesterday. I was just about to tee off on the sixth hole when a nude man jumped out from behind a tree, took the driver out of my hands and grabbed my 3-wood and 4-wood out of my golf bag. No kidding, he was stark naked! He threw all three clubs on the ground and then sat on them, which, of course, prompted me to ask myself, “Do I hope you have a happy birthday?”
INSIDE: Does a bare sit on the woods? Happy Birthday!

TECHNIQUE #13: Have fun with puns. There’s only one rule to keep in mind when you write puns: they better be darn good! Most puns sound very amateurish and juvenile but if you can manage to use a clever play on words now and then, by all means go right ahead. Here’s an example of a pun that works quite well as a wedding card:

COVER: I’m sure everyone will be crying at your wedding.
INSIDE: Even the cake will be in tiers. Congratulations!

TECHNIQUE #14: Involve the card reader. Center the joke around whether or not the person you’re giving the card to opens the card. For example:

COVER: This birthday card can only be opened by someone who hasn’t had sex in the last three years.
INSIDE: Thought so.

COVER: Thanks for the best sex I ever had.
INSIDE: Don’t open this card until after our next date.

COVER: If you’d like me to take off all my clothes and jump naked into your arms, then do NOT open this card.
INSIDE: Okay, I’ll keep my socks on.

You can use this approach with virtually any category. Next time you’re writing a Father’s Day or a Halloween card, for example, apply this technique and see what happens.

TECHNIQUE #15: Get political. These cards often have a short shelf life but so what? You still get paid the same amount and it’s fun to try some topical humor. Here are some examples:

COVER: President Clinton is now considering putting a tax on
INSIDE: Well, there goes your life savings.

COVER: This birthday card is politically incorrect.
INSIDE: It’s straight, white and mailed.

COVER: This is a Republican birthday card. I didn’t have to pay anything for it.
INSIDE: The cost will be passed on to future generations.

COVER: For your birthday I was going to send you a naked photo of myself from my office. But you know what my boss said?
INSIDE: Read my lips. No nude faxes.

TECHNIQUE #16: Get mushy. A lot of people have difficulty putting their feelings into words. If you can speak from the heart and strike a universal chord while being a little bit creative, you’ll be successful.

COVER: STOP! Before you open this card, try to imagine how much I love you.
INSIDE: Nope. Not even close. Happy Anniversary!

COVER: If I had a chocolate chip cookie for every time I thought about you today . . .
INSIDE: I’d be up to my hips in chips!
(This was a Snoopy card for Hallmark)

I’ve already talked about creative camouflage. Here are two other cards we sold that are variations of the Snoopy card:

COVER: If I had five cents for every time I thought about you today . . .
INSIDE: I’d be up to my nipples in nickels!

COVER: If I had a drink for every time I thought about you today . . .
INSIDE: I’d be up to my crotch in scotch!

TECHNIQUE #17: Play the lottery. These cards have a slot inside so you can insert an actual lottery ticket. The beauty of it is that you can apply this technique to virtually any card category, from Get Well to Thank You to Mother’s Day to Birthday. You’ll have to check with each card company, of course, to see if they’d consider doing this kind of card. Here are a couple examples:

COVER: To help you feel better, I bought you a yacht, a dream house and financial independence.
INSIDE: Then again, maybe it’s just a bookmark.
Get well soon!

COVER: Inside this card is a LOTTERY TICKET! If you win, it’s the most expensive gift I ever gave you.
INSIDE: If you lose, it’s the most expensive gift I ever gave you. Happy Birthday!

TECHNIQUE #18: Be subliminal. These cards are a lot of fun to write. They’re perfect for people who are too shy to say what they really think. Or for people who like adding insult to injury. Here are two examples:




EVEN THOUGH MY SCHEDULE IS BOOKED SOLID. (I’d skip a Madonna concert at a nudist camp to spend just five minutes with you!)

INSIDE: I JUST WANTED TO SAY HI (Kiss me, you fool!)

COVER: WOW! IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY! (Hope the excitement doesn’t short-circuit your pacemaker!)

HAVE A WILD CELEBRATION (Try not to wake everyone else in the rest home!)

WITH LOTS OF GREAT REFRESHMENTS (Prune juice for everyone!)

AND EXCITING PARTY GAMES! (Hope you reserved the shuffleboard court!)


Okay, let’s tackle the business of writing T-shirts, buttons, coffee mugs and Post-it notes. Let’s start with the two basic rules for writing successful T-shirts.

RULE #1: The vast majority of successful T-shirt ideas fall into one of two categories: philosophies or labels.

When I say “philosophy” I mean a point of view, a way of looking at life, like, LIFE’S A BITCH, THEN YOU DIE.

A philosophy can be expressed in many different ways. I know some people who are on anti-depressants, for example. Now that’s not a humorous topic but I’ve noticed that people who are prone to depression joke about it among themselves. So I came up with this shirt:


Labels also work well. A label says, “This is me and I’m proud of who I am.” Here’s a shirt that I wrote for Lake Street Shirts that was their biggest seller over Mother’s Day:


As I mentioned earlier, the following T-shirt has been a huge seller in catalogs and stores all across the country. All my friend did was give me three words. Every month afterward, he’d call me and ask, “Well, how much free money do I get this month?”


Labels work very well because most T-shirts are bought as gifts for other people, which brings us to:

RULE #2: Your shirt should appeal to a large, but specific, target group of people. In other words, when someone is browsing through a rack of shirts and sees GARAGE SALE GODDESS, she’s going to say, “Oh, I’ve got to get this for Pam, it’s perfect for her!” That’s the response you want to
elicit. If you can get people to react like that, you’ll have a successful shirt.

Here’s another shirt we did that did fairly well:


That sold because everyone, it seems, knows a lawyer or two.

I once submitted a shirt with an extra sleeve on one side. It said, NUCLEAR POWER PLANT GUARD. Obviously, it didn’t sell. How many people are going to see it in a store and say, “Oh, I’ve got to get this for Bob, it’s perfect for him!” I mean, how many nuclear power plant guards are there? Concentrate on a target group that millions of people could belong to. There are millions of women who love to go to garage sales. There are millions of cat lovers. There are millions of people who clip coupons. Choose your audience and then write a shirt they’d be proud to wear.

Keep in mind that only positive labels work. My friend Gibson is not going to do any dieting shirts because who would want to wear a shirt that says, “I’m fat and I need to lose weight”? Write a message that someone would be proud wear so they can announce to the world, “This is who I am!”

When you’re writing a label shirt, start with the phrase, “I’M A (BLANK).” Fill in the blank and then drop the words, “I AM.” What you’re left with is the label.

Labels and philosophies also work well for buttons and coffee mugs. As I mentioned before, MEGA-CUTE works because it’s the kind of button a young girl would wear or attach to her purse. My niece came up with another idea appropriate for teenagers: HIGH ON HORMONES.

Those work well because the main audience for buttons is pre-teen and teenage girls. When I write those kinds of buttons, I try to put myself in the mindframe of a teenage girl looking through a box of buttons at the front counter of a hair accessory store in the mall. Which ones would catch their attention?

As far as philosophies, I sat down once and tried to put myself in the mindset of an underpaid, unappreciated woman working for a male chauvinist boss (which, unfortunately, is all too common) and came up with these ideas that work well as either buttons or mugs. Keep in mind that these ideas don’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny. They just have to strike a chord in people, something that they can relate to on a visceral level.




Here are a few more mugs that I’ve written for office workers:



(Drawing of Hell, complete with a grinning devil)

You may have noticed a rather disturbing trend here: cynicism sells. But just make sure your humor is tongue-in-cheek. There’s no market for cruel or dark humor.

Post-it notes are a different animal altogether. The best Post-it notes can be used for either the workplace or home. Most of the Post-it notes I’ve sold have been based on one of the following four messages:

1) I need your help
2) This needs to be done
3) The office is the last place we’d like to be
4) Someone called for you while you were out

Here are some Post-it notes we’ve sold:

Help! I haven’t seen the top of my desk in three months!

What a nightmare I had! I dreamed that Dan Quayle tied me to my bed with strips of red licorice, then ripped off his shirt and tie and ordered me to . . .

Thanks for volunteering for this project . . .

Please have this done by the time you finish reading this.

P.S. Your feelings called. They’re trying to get in touch with you.

P.S. Your husband called. Or maybe it was your boyfriend. I can’t remember which.

P.S. Your doctor called while you were out. But don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.

P.S. Your psychiatrist called. Your new personality is ready.

P.S. Dr. Kevorkian called. He can fit you in next Tuesday.

HELP! Im falling behind and I can’t catch up!

You can always tell when a man uses the copy machine. He leaves the lid up.

The biggest mistake I made when I started writing Post-it notes was basing them on the message, “Do this or you’re fired.” Who buys Post-it notes? Right, it’s peon-to-peon communication. The executives in the office who do the firing don’t buy Post-it notes. Everyone knows that executives have no sense of humor (and if that statement offends you, I’ve proved my point).

Well, that’s it! You’re ready to start making money as a freelance greeting card writer. Before you know it, your mailbox will be stuffed with paychecks! Good luck!


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36 Responses to “Learn How to Write Greeting Cards!”

  1. twelveoranges aka Anna Says:

    Hi Phil,

    Thanks for the link. These are practical advice. When you mentioned that a card has to have a ‘me to you’ sentiment, I can’t help but share our best seller cards in Manila is/was (not sure now) the ‘Between You and Me’ (BYM) line. It has really long texts and really sentimental. =)

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yep, people like those kinds of cards because they typically can’t express such sentiments themselves so articulately. THey definitely fill a need!

  3. Miriam Evers Says:

    Fascinating to hear the views of the man behind the sweet and funny words. Thanks for sharing your tips Phil!

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Miriam! Thanks for dropping by!

  5. wordsandtoons Says:

    Wow! These are the most insightful and helpful tips about greeting card writing I’ve ever read. I’m a cartoonist and humor writer who has had numerous cards published by major companies (including Shoebox), but I still learned an enormous amount from this. I wish I had come upon it a few years ago; it would have helped me avoid more than a few stumbles.

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Phil!

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    My pleasure, wordsandtoons! Glad you found it so helpful. Congrats on what sounds like a fun card writing career!

  7. Michele Says:

    Thank you for being so generous and sharing such insightful information.

    I was wondering what a realistic yearly income can be made from writing greeting cards?

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    That depends entirely on how skilled you are and how prolific you are. That’s what’s so great about writing greeting cards. You can write for one hour a month or three hours a day!

  9. Marty Says:

    SOOO much great information. You made the subject so interesting I’m going to do it! What an inspiration you are.

  10. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Marty! Good luck!

  11. Victoria Klein Says:

    Such a fantastic article, Phil! I found your website via the interview you did w/the Renegade Writer blog (also great!). I’m submitting my first greeting card ideas today & am excited to try this new creative outlet.

    I do have a question though. As discussed in your article, I’ve also come up with some ideas for t-shirts. Is there a listing of t-shirt companies that accept ideas that I can work from?

  12. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Glad you found the post helpful, Victoria! WIsh I could help you with the T-shirt list but it’s been a few years since I’ve submitted T-shirt ideas and I’m not up to date on who to submit to.

  13. wayne meyer Says:

    I am writing a report on you and I would like to know how you started to write poems.

    Thank You,
    Wayne Meyer
    7th grade student

  14. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Hi, Wayne! Nice to hear from you. I started writing song parodies in grade school. I’d sit at an old manual typewriter and tap out humorous versions of popular songs. I also wrote funny poems about baseball, a sport I dearly loved and still do. Starting in fifth grade, I wrote some more serious poems as well. Here are a couple of God-oriented poems I wrote in sixth grade:

    As I noted in the following post, my daughter, Erin, was twelve when I wrote the five poems that I contributed to “Kids Pick The Funniest Poems.” Erin and I were in full goofball mode, so writing them was easy and fun!

    I also wrote some other kids’ poems around the same time:

    I still like writing baseball poems. Here are some I wrote about the Minnesota Twins:

    Speaking of my daughter and baseball, here is a song I wrote to celebrate her childhood:

    Please let me know what other questions you have! Good luck with your report!

  15. ananya Says:


  16. Phil Bolsta Says:


  17. Kate Harper Says:

    Hi-I posted an interview with an American Greetings Writer and Author today on my Greeting Card Designer blog if you are interested: http://kateharperblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/meet-master-of-greeting-card-writing.html

  18. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks, Kate! I bookmarked the interview and look forward to reading it!

  19. spunkyduckling Says:

    Hi, Excellent tips. thanks. Came over from twitter. Makes me want to try my hand at writing cards. Well I’ll sure think about it.

  20. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, spunkyduckling! Good luck!

  21. Catherine Says:

    I have one of the Shoe Box cards that says on the cover “Men Are Scum” inside “For A Moment There……” It was never sent to anyone and I was told they were taken off the shelves due to its strong insinuation. Is this card worth anything ?? Thanks for your time AND thanks for this site. You’ve helped me alot. Betsy Nein

  22. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Hi, Catherine! You know, it never occurred to me that greeting cards may have collectible value. I can’t imagine that they would. You’re right, that care was pulled off the shelves because of complaints that it was too harsh. I remember seeing it on a card rack myself and thinking, “Whoa.” Glad you enjoyed the post!

  23. Teresa Schwartz Says:

    Dear Phil, I’ve been devouring greeting card business pages and blogs for some time now, but when I found yours, it was like being in front of a personal tutor answering all your questions and giving you advice. I’ve not read anything like that in some time. Thanks so much! Keep up the good work!

  24. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks so much, Teresa! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and found it helpful!

  25. Teresa Schwartz Says:

    You know, I do have a question I’ll ask here in case others are curious too….
    What if you sent your cards to two sites and they both accept them…how would you handle that? You mentioned that situation in Business Tip #4.

  26. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You have to turn one of them down, Teresa, which may burn a bridge. There’s no need to tell the other company about the situation; just say thank you and accept the check.

  27. guillaume Says:

    hey Phil, interesting stuff!
    I thought you might also want to have a look at this website: http://www.scribbler.co.uk/
    it reflects very much the “English greeting cards humor” from the moment!
    they also accept design and idea submissions, like publishers.
    good luck!

  28. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks, Guillaume, I’ll check it out. I did quite a bit of writing for Paper House Group, an English greeting card company, but that was a number of years ago.

  29. Tara Says:

    Just a thank you, Phil, for such a wonderful article. Inspring, indeed! I look forward to applying the techniques you describe above! Thanks, again!

  30. Phil Bolsta Says:

    My pleasure, Tara. Glad you enjoyed it!

  31. Kim Hitzges Says:

    What a great article! I was actually looking for your book and ended up here. Thanks for sharing the information and tips!

  32. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Kim!

  33. Kim Hitzges Says:

    I’ve not been able to find a copy of “How to write Humorous Greeting Cards” to purchase. Are there no copies available??

  34. Phil Bolsta Says:

    No, it’s out of print. But this blog post contains the entire text. Thanks for your interest!

  35. Michael Vaszari Says:

    Phil, I’ve sold well over 2000 humorous and studio ideas since 1963 and find that lately, Companies are taking sometime months to respond and usually return your material without purchasing any ideas. What is going on? Are other writers experiencing the same thing. Help please.

  36. Phil Bolsta Says:

    First of all, congratulations on being so prolific and successful, Michael. I tip my hat to you. As you well know, due to industry consolidation and other issues, the freelance market for writing greeting cards is much smaller than it used to be. Have you communicated with companies about their needs and expectations? It may be wise to start such dialogues, especially if longtime editors have been replaced. The fact that you’ve been writing for fifty years suggests that industry turnover may be an issue for you because this business, like greeting cards themselves, is all about relationships—and you’ve likely outlasted many of the editors whom you enjoyed good relationships with. That said, I have not been active in this market myself for a few years now so I can’t speak to any specific developments. I wish you luck, Michael!

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