Here’s ONE Way To Make Money With Your Poetry …
The Paper Products Market is a multi-billion dollar industry and covers everything from calendars and greeting cards, to napkins, paper plates, stationary, frames, gift wrap and posters.
The reality is that unless you put them there, you don’t find poems on paper plates and napkins! You DO see poems and inspirational messages on greeting cards and on a few desktop specialty calendars.
Let’s look at the GREETING CARD Marketplace.
You only have to walk into any one of a dozen greeting card specialty stores to realize that there is a huge market here. There are hundreds of companies competing in the arena … from small one-person enterprises to the famed Hallmark and Carlton Greeting Card companies. The thirst for greeting cards is insatiable … and the need for new material is constant.
If you are a savvy marketer you could end up with your own line of products, licensing your images and words and creating a ready stream of loyal buyers. Charles Schultz with his Charlie Brown characters and Laurel Burch with her colorful cats are two illustrators that immediately come to mind.
While most people initially pick up a greeting card because of the image … they often make their BUY decision based on the message inside.
Using myself as an example … I recently purchased a Mother’s Day Card. She loves flowers and cats so those were the images I picked up to “look inside.” Most of the verses and sentiments were way over the top for me. Unfortunately I have a difficult relationship with my mother and I was not about to give her a card filled with “you are so wonderful” sentiments. I chose a card with a kitten on front and a kinda neutral poem inside.
My BUY decision was because of the sentiment inside.
And that’s where Poets and Writers come in … SOMEONE has to write that stuff!
Before we go any further lets take a look at the money because basing your “this poetry thing is for me” decision in reality, is a GOOD thing!
Where’s The MONEY Honey?
Photographers and artists can get anywhere from $25 to $800 per image, depending on the illustration, the size of the company they are selling to, your “status” and the rights you are selling. Expect to be asked for world rights, exclusivity and a three to five year agreement OR a permanent rights buyout.
Writers and poets can look for a low of $15 per verse to $500+.
Bigger greeting card companies also buy “concepts” which focus on “niches,” such as “Breakups and Divorce” or “I’m moving.” A concept includes a description of the over all “look” and the kinds of images (will it be photography based or illustration based, and color schemes). The concept also includes what the inside looks like, including font selections and the type of sentiments to be used.
You can get from $25 to $500 per concept. In the higher range you would be doing concepts for a card collection or series.
With some markets you can make as much as $50 per word … though don’t expect that to be the norm. If your cards sell well you can expect royally agreements and a steady demand for your work.
The market place is huge and the competition isn’t as big as you might think. Many people hold off from submitting their ideas simply because they don’t know where or how.
Take the time to learn about this market, study the competition and start presenting your material.
Any NEW endeavor can be an exercise in extreme frustration. Selling to the greeting card industry is no exception. It takes time and energy and a hard shell to get started. Expect a lot of NO’s or even worse … NO answer at all. Once one door opens that success can help open more doors.
I know of a small greeting card company out of Vancouver BC. It is a husband and wife team. She is the photographer, he is the poet. They started their company because, to them, it seemed easier than trying to sell to other companies. BUT, please pay attention to this … this started off as a side hustle and they were both experienced marketers. Five years later, this is their full time business.
I also know of illustrators and poets who hand-craft their own greeting cards and sell them to specialty shops. They will never make a living at it, but love every minute of it.
A friend of mine creates hand stamped cards and uses her calligraphy skills to pen the sentiments. One year she came back from a visit to Brooklyn, NY with a check for $500. Later that same year she got a purchase order from the same specialty shop for another $500 batch of cards.
Definitely NOT a get rich quick scheme, but she says it’s a great way to keep herself amused during her retirement.
Compared to greeting cards, the calendar market isn’t as big as you might think. The reason? Calendar sales are very seasonal and most of them only have one to 13 images each. So even a company that publishes 50 calendars will only need a maximum of 650 images. The one page a day calendars are getting more popular and are opening up opportunities, though the pay rates will be at the lower end.
If you have been in any of the “all calendar” specialty stores that open up in October to mid-January … you will have seen calendars on virtually every hobby, and interest you can think of … cars, locomotives, cats, dogs, flowers. The biggest sellers are scenes that show the changing seasons. If you have a specialized photo niche, the calendar market may be interested!
Weeding out the competition. If you are shooting digitally you should know what RAW is, and what to do with it … because the calendar companies want the final image submissions as very high resolution files.
There is very little call for poetry in this market place. I’ve seen desk top one-page-a-day calendars that use poetry, inspiration blurbs and quotes. If you find a company that produces this type of calendar, sell the a concept — and you MAY be fortunate enough to also sell 365 days of sentiments.
The fees range from pathetic to great — $25 to $1200 per photo. Some calendar companies want an outright purchase of the image and transfer of copyright, while others just want exclusive rights for the year of publication.
The calendar market competition is fierce for photographers. This market is small for illustrators and even smaller for poets and writers.
BREAKING INTO THE MARKET
The GOOD NEWS is that it IS possible!
Many writers, poets, photographers and illustrators shy away from this market simply because they don’t know how to approach it or how to submit their work. Compared to getting into the article writing and content creation markets, there is relatively little information on how to get started.
ONE of the ways to get started here is locally … visit local printers who specialize in calendars that local businesses give to their customers.
How DO You Get Started?
1. Make several decisions that will focus your efforts. Are you willing to take six months to a year to break in and sell to established companies … OR … would you rather spend that time creating your own company and sell your products to retail outlets, though your own website or other on-line retailers.
2. Do your homework … LOTS of it! Check out this resource page, where there is a “starter” list of Greeting Card companies who purchase illustrations and sentiments. Get some of the books suggested from your local library or from Amazon. These are a good introduction to the market and how it works.
Start by checking out the listings, what are they looking for, what do they require, and what is their submission process?
Next, visit all your local card and calendar stores. You will start recognizing the company or brand names. If it is a Hallmark or Carleton product, ignore them for now … they are huge companies and most of their designs are produced in-house. In the independent card stores you will see a lot of specialty lines … make a note of them including their address and website info.
Pay attention to the types of cards that get a lot of shelf space, vs the niche shelves. Pay attention to what is popular today (trends change). The bigger companies will have several lines … for example: humor, blank cards, sports, animals, flowers, etc. Are the card concepts quirky or traditional? Are the verses sappy, traditional, contemporary, wacky?
Unless you already have an established name as a writer, poet, illustrator or photographer you probably won’t be able to get into the larger companies …. YET. Make note of the smaller companies and especially the companies that aren’t listed in the market guides and approach them first.
3. Make notes on ALL the card stores in your area. Are they “boxed” stores that carry only a few lines or do they carry a wide range of lines.
Specifically look for stores that carry any lines done by local artists.
For example, the Vancouver Public Library has a very nice and busy shop that sells gift items and raises funds for the library. They carry a dozen lines of greeting cards featuring local artists and photographers. Some of these lines are “hand-crafted” while several others are printed by local publishers. If you are a writer or poet, you might be able to contact the illustrators and photographers to offer them your “sentiments,” or suggest a collaboration.
I asked the manager of the Vancouver Library shop how they decided what artists to buy. She said that the shop did not buy from individual artists, because that entailed too much paperwork. They purchased from a local sales agent who represented over 25 artists. She offered me the name of the agent. So DON’T be afraid to create a conversation with shop owners and ASK!
4. Start Taking ACTION
Now that you’ve done your background work and have researched the market thoroughly, you should know if, and how your work fits in. You should also have an idea of what the smaller publishers buy. If you think there’s a fit, it’s time to start approaching the markets.
When a publisher is “local” to you, make a phone call, introduce yourself and ask them to view your portfolio … if you are a photographer or illustrator. If you are a writer you should also have a portfolio (make it beautiful … calligraphy, or fabulous fonts). Ask about current and future needs. Are they planning on developing new lines? Can you submit your work for these lines. Are they open to concepts for new lines?
Whenever possible try to create personal relationships. When you do, your buyers will tell you about trends— what is doing well and what is not. This gives you an advantage over your competition.
In most cases publishers will not be local and you will have to contact them by phone or email. Read the market listing guides to see how the publisher prefers to be contacted. I almost always prefer to make my first connection by phone, but if you are shy you may prefer to create a professional looking package that illustrates your work.
Yes a “package” that can either be mailed or couriered. Sure you can do it by email and send attachments but greeting cards happen to be a mostly physical business … so make it physical!
Develop an introductory cover letter introducing yourself and your specialty. At this point, your submission would be considered to be “unsolicited” and it may just be thrown onto a slush pile until the editor or publisher has time to review it. Because of this I would advise against submitting any original art work.
Photographers and illustrators … sure to protect yourself with watermarks. Writers … send samples and be sure to add your copyright notification.
If you are working on a slim budget email is OK, but you stand a better chance of your work being viewed if you send your package by mail. Follow up with a phone call to make sure your package was received, and to hopefully talk to the buyer.
The reason I prefer to initiate with a phone call is because I am fairly good at creating conversations. I can often create interest in my work in the call. When an editor asks for a submission, your package will be viewed and responded to faster, and follow-up phone calls will be more readily taken.
If you are horrified at even the thought of making a cold call … just send, but be aware that you will have to work harder at getting a fingernail in the door.
Should You Start Your OWN Business?
It’s actually easier than you think because there are several online sites that can help you get started with only a minimal investment (NOTHING is free, even if they say it is).
On the resources page, you will find a short list of online sites that you can explore.
You may be happy to stay online or you may want to take the next step and create your own line of physical cards. Don’t quit your day job … but DO pursue this business if the idea sends happy shivers all the way up your spine.
Breaking into any market takes
time and patience and PERSISTENCE.
If you strike out the first time, keep on trying, keep on submitting and keep on asking questions about what they would like to see next. Keep your eyes open for new market trends to see if you can capitalize on work you may already have. And while you are working at getting into the greeting card and calendar markets, don’t forget that your body of work is also salable in other market places.
While I am all for reality checks I am also an entrepreneur at heart! This one of the FEW markets that poets can thrive in.
DO IT. Put on your Nikes and run!
Check out these resources for more details about the greeting card marketplace, the resources page includes a list of more than 50 greeting card companies and a short list of companies that will enable you to start your own online store.
My experience in the paper products market was through my photography. Over the years, I sold more than a dozen, funny animal photos to a post card company. I also had two calendar lines.
The first calendar line was one of those crazy, out of the blue opportunities. I specialized in writing and producing video programs for a variety of companies. One of my customers was a trucking company servicing the province of Alberta.
Whenever I directed a video shoot, I always took my camera with me. One day I got a really spectacular sunset photo of a truck. Yes … a truck. The setting was what made the photo spectacular, NOT the truck!
I had the photo printed with the thought of giving it to the owner of the company. BUT on the day I was going to give it to him, I noticed their company “calendar” on his desk. I asked about it and ended up selling him the photo for their next calendar. It was for one of those one-photo, 12-month calendars.
Apparently his customers actually commented on the photo, so the company president decided to upgrade to a bigger calendar. For the next four years, I took photos of their trucks and sold them 13 photos a year. Standing out on the shoulder of a northern highway at 6AM wasn’t all that much fun, but it was challenging AND seeing my photos on the calendars was a big EGO boost!
My second calendar job? The people who printed the trucking calendar hired me to do THEIR calendar! Bright, colorful and FUN!
When you are a freelancer, you never know when, why, how or where you will make your next sale. Keep your eyes and ears opened for opportunities.
Click here for Poetry Resources – Greeting Card Marketplace
Ella James says
This is an excellent article with tons of great information and advise on making money with poetry.