Greeting Card Biz Insider Secrets – Part 3

Don Ruge, a greeting card industry pro, completes his series on the topic of licensing your work.


Don Ruge

Don Ruge


Some artists want to create art, but don’t want to get involved in the manufacturing process. What are some suggestions for them?

Creating art requires one set of skills while supervising the manufacturing process requires quite a different set. How many of us really have the talent or time for both? Besides, designing a successful card line is a lot of work (especially if you’re doing all that research I suggested!), so it makes sense to leave the manufacturing to the experts. This is where licensing comes into the picture.

I should immediately follow up this statement by admitting that I am NOT a licensing expert. I have worked at companies where we have entered into an agreement with an artist to manufacture his/her designs, but I was not part of the negotiation process. What I do know is there is not a one-size-fits-all agreement that will make everyone – the artist and the company manufacturing their work – happy.

For instance, royalties can look great on paper, but if the print runs are low and the distribution is small (meaning not many cards are printed to begin with and even fewer cards ever make it into a store) then it doesn’t matter what percentage of the sales dollars make it back into the artist’s hands. And some artists are so anxious to see their designs manufactured that they will settle for a less-than-fair upfront fee, thinking that they’ll make their money on royalties.

But as I said, I am not an expert. This is where the web really comes in handy, because there are a lot of people out there who truly are authorities when it comes to non-manufacturing options. If I had to make one suggestion to an artist who wants to create art but doesn’t want to get involved in the manufacturing process, it would be to join LinkedIn and become a member of as many design- and greeting card-related groups as possible.

The wealth of information from people who have experienced the highs and lows of developing their own card lines is  truly amazing! For example, a member of the LinkedIn group, “Greeting Card, Stationery & Gift Industry Gurus,” recently started a discussion with the question “Breaking into the greeting card business…which way to go?” and at last count she has received 47 comments to her query. Experienced artists are usually more than happy to share their successes and failures with beginning artists as a way of helping them avoid the same mistakes they made when they first began. And the best part is, you not only learn a lot about the industry but you make some great contacts (and friends) along the way.

What are some Do’s and Don’ts to consider when getting into the greeting card business?

Do remember it’s a business.

It may involve art, it may involve design, it may involve your heart and soul, but it is still a business, which means there’s always the bottom line to consider. While creativity, both in art and editorial, plays a significant role in the development of the product there are many other elements that must come together to insure success and profitability.

Don’t take it personally.

Be prepared for criticism. Greeting card art is commercial art, meaning that the end result of your creative endeavor is to sell product and make money. The reality of the business (there’s that “B” word again!) is that your client has his/her own idea of what they need for that particular card design, collection, or product line and 9 times out of 10 some changes–of one degree or another–must be made. And Art Directors appreciate, and continue to work with, artists who willingly make the changes required.  Which leads to…

Don’t refuse to make changes.

By all means express your concerns, engage in a dialogue about why you disagree with the Art Director, make other suggestions, etc. but never say “I won’t do that!” This is especially important if you’re just starting out in greeting cards. If you’re serious about your future, you’ll understand that this is only about one design – it has nothing to do with who’s right or who’s wrong – and you’ll remember that you always have the option of turning down future assignments if you feel it’s not worth the effort to work with this, uh,…jerk! Just as Art Directors have a list of artists they won’t work with anymore, so too do artists have a similar list of “never again” Art Directors! Only experience can give you the wisdom to know what jobs are worth the effort, so take your time in determining where those lines are drawn (no pun intended).

Avoid shortcuts (hint: there are no shortcuts!)

Don’t forget that it’s a mighty big world out there, and chances are the line into which you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears is not as unique and special as you think it is. That’s sounds rather harsh but it’s one more reason why I talk  about research. You have to get out there and know your competition. The last thing you want to do is spend months designing a line, only to discover that there are three other lines out there that look exactly the same! That means visiting stores regularly, keeping a reference file of cards you like, checking out your competition’s web site, etc. In short, it means becoming your own greeting card expert.

Don’t Miss Greeting Card Biz Insider Secrets Part 1 and Greeting Card Biz Insider Secrets Part 2


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