Greeting Cards / Gift Wrap

Making a Repeat Pattern
Miscellaneous Greeting Card Info
Selling Rights


I've done work for several of the biggies, including American Greetings, Recycled Greetings, Paramount, etc. But a couple years ago I decided to start my own card co. and publish my designs myself. It is called "odd is good". I have reps covering most of the country. The line is at 48 designs right now. We will be adding 12 more in November. If you want I'll find out where they are sold in CT . . or I could send you a line sheet.

- -Kevan

Here is a question. I know Kevan has self published his greeting cards.. has anyone else gone this route? Just curious. I am considering it. KEvan, do you have your own racks you buy? It just dawned on me that I could consider this with my own cards to get things started. Goodness...where do I start?>>

The first thing you should know about publishing your own greeting cards is that it takes lots and lots and lots of money. (Ah, what the hell . . the kids don't REALLY need to go to college, do they?) Money to print them and money to establish a sales force (reps) around the country. This means going to shows and producing mailers, etc. And you have to remember that cards are really low ticket items. That means you have to SELL lots and lots and lots of cards to make your money back. After 2+ years into this and the college funds for two kids, I feel that this is the year that we really turn the corner. I'll update that prediction after the May Stationery Show! Ha! This is a tough business to getup and running in. But, the profit margin is pretty nice if you can stick with it.

- -Kevan


Date: Wed, 07 Oct 1998 20:01:00 -0400
From: Ali & Peet
Subject: Re: illustration: Greeting cards

I also have an Epson 600 (AND LOVE IT!) and for my cards I plan to do for Christmas, I plan on using some Kodak Photo quality paper - it really produces stellar color.. then getting some nice paper, like arches, or something comparably thick and textured, cutting 4 corners, and placing the cut out print in the center. That way you get the best of both worlds! Also, with the arches paper, I like to tear the edges, so they're nice and rough, and then take some watercolor down the sides, and let the paper absorb it, giving it a really dreamy look. Maybe even adding some ribbon around the edges of the print inlay. Depending on what you're mailing, this may be a good idea for you, too.. :)

- -Ali

"Have any of you designed any of those little valentines that the children buy and hand out in their classes? I was wondering what the sizes were.??"

I've worked with these sizes of 2 3/4" x 4", 3" x 4 1/16", 2 3/4" x 4 7/8" , 4" x 5" and 4" x 5 5/16".


Date: Tue, 15 Dec 1998 00:28:45 -0700
From: "Nelson, Jan Kelm"
Subject: illustration: Re: Midwest

Hi Claudia,

Wow, sorry I did not get back to you until now! I have not looked at email for a couple of days until I got more work done! As for the info on Midwest...I must admit I was fortunate to have a good friend there who was coordinating freelance and gave me the opportunity to work for them. Bad news is I did do it as a work-for-hire...they paid me 250.00 to 300.00 for a concept drawing. pretty simple stuff with a back, front and side drawing. I used color pencil to indicate color. That may not sound like a lot of mula but changes were very few and I could usually design them fairly quickly, as my stuff was not real detailed or complicated...sometimes 2 or 3 a day and I could fax the rough designs and then do the final concepts... They do pay more according to how detailed and complicated the drawings are for each assignment. Ok more bad news is I was told by my friend that they have cut their freelance budget and are doing more in much as is possible and I have not heard from them in a long time because of it but that doesn't mean they won't look at ideas submitted to them and not negotiate any deals. You would need to talk to them about that...

Anyway, the folks there are nice and here is the address:

Midwest of Cannon Falls
32057 64th Ave.
Cannon Falls, Minnesota 55009

Phone 800-776-2075 Phone 507-263-4261
Fax 507-263-7750 (I have no email address...)

Altho' my friend is still there, he is not coordinating freelance but his name is Drew Smith (ext. 2208) and he may be able to answer any questions you might have. Good luck! Jan

Jan again...A great resource for giftware is Giftware News...most of the major design houses advertise in there and all the major giftware shows and licensing shows are listed in there. It's a great resource. You probably know all this but thought I would mention it...:-) Also, I have done plaques for Olympia Sales and here is their address:

Olympia Sales
215 Moody Road
Enfield, Conn. 06083
Phone 860-749-0751
Fax 860-763-0476
Joann Calucchia - Creative Director. I don't have an email address.

Giftware News
Subscriptions Department
20 North Wacker Drive, Suite 3230
Chicago, Illnois 60606-9687...fax# 312-849-2174 Their web address is

:-) Jan

Date: Sat, 23 Jan 1999 14:47:02 -0500
From: Claudia Sargent
Subject: illustration: JamGirl's Baby Book

"i have a book idea that is finding itself hard to categorize...i am a sculptor, i have created these 3D dioramas of a baby's room and the baby, chronicling baby's first year with an illustration for each month as baby grows....the illustrations have been photographed and scanned and i am getting ready to put them into a book dummy, "Room to Grow Baby's First Year" that is a baby journal/album/book concept where the illustration is on one page and there is a blank page (with illustrative borders and headers on the other side to fill in your own stuff..."

Dear Jill,

CONGRATULATIONS! You have created a gift book. The publishers who are BEST to submit to in this category are the ones who have a strong gift sales force (i.e., you find their product in gift & card stores as well as in bookstores , et al) AND who produce what are called "collections" of related product around the book(i.e., smaller format companion books like brag books, photo albums, calendars, giftwrap & bags, cards, frames, collectible figurines, growth charts, etc.).

There are several VERY good publishers in this area of the market-- Cedco (who does all the Anne Geddes books & a portion of the related stationery product), Thomas Nelson Gifts (incorporating the line of the formerly independent C.R. Gibson, who published my book, "Grandmother's Gift: A Memory Book for My Grandchild", which has sold 100,000 copies & counting since 1996-- and I'm a really minor player in their pantheon), and Andrews & McMeel (Mary Engelbreit & Tracey Porter-- need I say more?).

Conventional publishers for this kind of book--with a somewhat lower level of sales volume, and no accompanying product (though you can license those rights yourself as long as you reserve them in your book contract)-- would include Little, Brown & Company (Susan Branch), Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Workman (also an ME publisher), Penguin Studio Books (Trisha Romance), Simon & Schuster (some Lois Wyse books), and Time-Life Custon Publishing (they're just starting their gift book division, though). There are also other smaller players in this market-- you can investigate it by going to several of the larger gift & card shops in your area & noting who's producing product like the one you want to propose. Bookstores aren't quite as helpful in researching this hybrid area because they always put fill-in gift books in the wrong place (which is why you're finding baby journals alongside "What to Expect When You're Expecting").

When Peg & I submitted our proposal for "Grandmother's Gift", we only submitted sample text (no artwork) & a full description (including market research) of our proposed book-- but we were submitting to publishers who already knew our previous gift books. I'm working on a giftbook proposal now (not a fill-in, but we're going to propose an accompanying fill-in journal) that I'll be circulating among publishers who I haven't worked with yet, as well as ones who've already published me. My co-author & I are preparing a formal proposal, including market research (i.e., what similar books are out there and how ours is different enough from the pack to set it apart, yet similar enough to best-selling lines that have a bit of age on them to encourage our buying audience to purchase a new, but comfortingly familiar, product) & setting out our marketing plans (i.e., we'll be willing to do artist/author appearances, and my co-author also wears a p.r. hat in her non-author life). My part of the proposal will be providing design grids, a list of art for the book, a finished sample spread in color with finished text in place (called the "sell spread"), and a full chapter in tight pencil sketch form.

If you haven't done a giftbook before, I'd circulate a query letter among your first-line choices for publisher first. Direct these to the acquisitions editor or creative director of the companies-- FIND OUT the name of the person who reviews proposals for new book/collection ideas. Describe your project, and enclose a business card or whatever promo piece you use to publicize your work. Ask for a response within a certain amount of time, and follow up by phone if they don't get back to you. Send proposals to anyone who responds positively to your query, and --who knows?-- maybe you'll have a bidding war among publishers on your hands.

When it comes to creating your proposal, I'd make it as complete as possible-- the better your proposal, the higher an advance you are likely to get. Don't be scared away be relatively low advance offers (we accepted only $10K against 5% net royalties from Gibson, because experience told us that the book would earn out very quickly because of the VOLUME they produce in sales. And--so far-- we've each made $16K in royalties after earnout).

"should i market myself separately with my art samples, to get illustration work?"

Yeah, I'd keep the illustration work separate from the book proposals, because there isn't a whole lot of crossover between these giftbook publishers and the rest of the illustration market. Promote yourself in both areas, separately, to maximize your exposure in both markets.

This is more than you asked for, but if you have any other questions, ask away!! GOOD LUCK!!

Peace & joy,

Hi John--

As more & more and more artists (both commercial & "fine") get into licensing their images, the giftbook market is becoming perhaps even more competitive than the trade book market-- I mean, how many baby books, bride books, etc. can the market handle? But because the stakes are so high, if you can get "in" with a publisher that has a great distribution network & experienced & motivated gift sales force, it's a worthwhile thing to try. We NEVER would have accepted a $10K advance against 5% net from a trade publisher, because they usually go out with only 10,000 books (maybe 25,000 if they REALLY believe in your project) and the sales force rarely sells through your first printing-- there's just too much product they have to promote, PLUS they're primarily selling to the bookstore chains and small independent bookstores (rather than gift & card stores, or even the Price Clubs & mass retailers like Walmart & Cracker Barrel).

To illustrate the difference in approach by the two kinds of sales forces--our women's memory book, "Giving Voice to Myself", also a fill-in giftbook, was published at around the same time by a trade publisher and will probably NEVER earn out-- and for that we got an advance of $18,750 against 6% LIST on a book with a higher selling price ($19.95 vs. $13.50 for GG--which was originally SUPPOSED to sell for $20-- a sad but true tale of what happens when your publisher gets sold to a larger concern.) If you do the math, you see we get $1.197 for each copy of GV that sells, vs. 33 3/4 cents for each copy of GG. Just looking at those numbers, you'd think that the GV deal was MUCH better--except that dog won't hunt, because the sales force at GV's publisher isn't oriented to giftstore & mass retailer sales, or to placing that book in catalogs (where IMO it would do VERY well).

So---with all that, and with having earned a LOT less money WHILE I was doing the work on GG, it turned out to be the better deal in the long run-- and Gibson also did an accompanying brag book which earns royalties from the get-go because we didn't get a separate advance for it. (It was part of the original contract that they could do related product based on the artwork in GG--the cover for the brag book was based on the GG cover art, and there's no art at all inside-- it's a photo album.)

"Is it the text or concept that sells primarily?"

The "look" seem to be the primary determining factor (the gift business is really more related to fashion & home furnishing trends than it is to trade publishing), followed by editorial concept. If you can come up with a new way to editorially approach the bride book or baby book, you probably won't have a hard time selling the concept.

"Are there perennial favorites... such as address books, calendar books, etc.?"

Those formats tend to "spin off" from a central book idea, OR are part of a larger collection of themed items. If you go to a good card shop, you'll see what I mean-- there are baby collections, bride collections, kitchen collections, and now they're doing a lot of collections that are targeted to preteen girls. A big Hallmark store will have a variety of these collections for you to browse.

"Do you know of any informative source books about this industry... sort of like all the books about 'how to write children's books'?"

I don't know of any books (and thanks for the compliment!), but if you acquaint yourself with the gift & stationery industry as a whole, you come across a lot of information. Try visiting the websites of publishers & gift trade publications-- Thomas Nelson has a good website, also Gift & Decorative Accessories & Giftware News.

"Anyhow, I'm astonished at the sales and royalties of your 'Grandmother's Gift' book. I'll be looking for it in the stores."

Well, thanks-- as I said I'm a REALLY minor player here, even though my book has done well by *trade* standards. I tried to sell 3 different Christmas collection ideas to Nelson for 1999, and also proposed that they do an accompanying "Grandfather's Gift" to tap the up & coming baby boomer grandpa demographic-- and got ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE. So-- prior success is not necessarily a predictor of future sales, even when you make money for the company. It's a mystery I simply haven't been able to crack!

Peace & joy,


You may want to look at textile design books--there are several good ones that explain how to design a repeat pattern.

- - Draw you idea out on paper of the size you want your repeat to be (that's one full design( (technically you CAN do your design more than once in a "repeat" but for clarity I will call one design one repeat.)

- - cut your paper in half vertically and tape it back together the other way, so that the edges are together and the middle cut becomes the edges.

- - adjust the drawing so your new middle is smooth and seamless

- - cut your paper in half horizontally and do the same thing.

- - cut the taped parts and put your paper back the original way to make sure it still looks good. If not, redraw some more.

- - get a bunch of photocopies, stick them all together, step back and look at them to make sure you haven't made any inadvertant patterns you don't want. (denser clusters, etc.) If so, redraw and go back to step 2.

It's really not as tedious as it sounds, it's fun!

On the subject of creating repeating designs for giftwrap.

You can imagine a large sheet of artwork that is composed of several seamless repeats of a comparatively small design. Let's settle upon a particular example size, although any size can be repeated. Let's say 8 by 10. In giftwrap construction , these can be thought-of as blocks. They can be "stacked" in many ways, but mostly are assembled in two ways, either staggered or unstaggered.

To begin, you lay-out a single block (a simple drawing of a rectangle), either horizontal or vertical. Let's say, horizontal for the purposes of example. Then you surround that block with other blocks. I'll show a Staggered matrix here which is the best format for hiding a Lock-Up.

The object here is to paint one block and make it fit the others in a clever way. The hard part is that you almost never get to use a simple block. When doing a design on white, it is quite easy because your background is non-existent and you can float vignettes any way you wish as long as they work together, but if you want to paint a background, you have to find a way to hide the edges or the printed piece will show a slight overlap wherever background meets background. So, how do we do that?

Think of the block as having three separate borders. One is the 8 x 10, one is two inches (Maximum) inside that and the third is two inches outside the 8 x 10. Shown here:

Now you draw whatever shape you like, but don't restrict yourself to the solid border shown. It's just reference point for the Lock-Up. Here's the deal. You cannot draw beyond two inches of the solid border. Why? Because that is an accepted industry standard for the camera operator to deal with, and as you will see, if you bust out of the block to the left, then when joined, that left part will bust INTO the block on the right. Left and right are easy, but when you stagger the matrix, as I have done, then a "bust-out" at he top left will "bust in" at bottom right. You end up with an amebic shape. Let's say you draw a flower at the extreme upper left-hand corner. That's as good a place to start as any. Then you must use the solid line to tell you exactly where that flower will hit on the repeat: Now, keep adding elements and, keeping track of their "negative" mirrors, fill the space as you please. Once you start, you'll find clever ways of associating elements that you know will fall next to each other in the repeat. OK, we're just getting started! You'll end-up with a strange shape that has an outline that must be regarded as part negative and part positive. The positive parts of the outline will overlap the negative parts slightly in the repeat. Now, the sticky part. Once you've created this clever design, you must remember, that if you want a background color to tie the whole sheet or roll of wrap into a seamless, single piece of art, you cannot overlap a background color with a background color. It will show as a tiny line and ruin your illusion of seamlessness. You must use some sort of design element to hide the overlap. It can be anything you wish, and there's the fun. What you will end with is clean edges on those elements that will be positive, or overlapping, and you must bleed the negative edges so that the imperfect printing process can avoid a gap.

For instance, you may paint a flower in one place, but paint that flower's stem on the other side of the block, so that they will come together only in the repeat. The object is to hide your repeat so cleverly that no one will be able to find it. Fun Stuff! The best way to learn this is to study giftwrap carefully till you discover where the repeat must be.

I've probably caused more questions, than given answers, but this is a good start, JIM


Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998 11:32:05 -0400
From: Claudia Sargent
Subject: illustration: Selling rights....?(Greeting card question)(long, sorry!)

LEs asked: " trying to find a suitable company to submit to I notice that most of them want to buy all rights. I have been counciled by more than one of you to NOT do this. Since they are characters I am working up I could use them in more than one market place."

The only time I ever sold "all rights" to greeting card designs was when I was working on Lynn Hollyn's line for Gibson Greetings. I was a total greeting card newbie, and it was *her* licensed line with Gibson, so it seemed appropriate to work that way. In the 9 years since then, I've never even seen a g.c. contract that called for licensing more than *just* the card rights, and that for a limited term (usually 5 years, after which the g.c. rights revert back to me). Are you sure that they are asking for ALL rights, or are they asking for EXCLUSIVE greeting card rights (which would simply bar you from selling the same rights to the same image(s) to another greeting card company for the term of the license)?

Licensing exclusive rights for a single type of usage makes sense, but licensing ALL rights to a greeting card company (which would include even rights they couldn't reasonably exploit, like book or apparel or giftware!) makes NO sense at all.

Another thing to remember is that-- if they like the designs & think they can make money-- EVERYTHING becomes negotiable.

Some things to look at in the contract:

~Grant of rights-- should be limited to products the company *actually* produces

~Term of license-- should be short enough so that if they're not moving your product, you can take your designs elsewhere, but long enough so that the company has a fair shot at building a market (I usually grant 5 years, but have granted as long as 8)

~Advance against royalty-- I'd avoid licensing a line *I* created with any company that didn't want me to participate in the profits of my own labors.

It may take more time to get a contract like this, but I think it's important. Don't forget, the guy who invented Superman died broke because he signed away ALL his rights.

A much more exhaustive overview of how to go about licensing your rights is in the Crawford contracts book, PEGS, and Caryn Leland's "Licensing Your Art & Design" (very dry, but very useful reading!).

Hope that's a bit helpful!

Peace & joy,

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