A little over seven years ago I approached a greeting card company about starting a line of greeting cards. The planets must have been aligned right because the company agreed to give it a try…and it worked! We sell hundreds of thousands of cards a year through out the world. The images have also been used in gift books, printed on checks, used on calendars, posters, journals and even coffee mugs. Through this experience I have learned a few things, which I now hope to pass on to you.
If you want to make any appreciable money I would rule out self-publishing. Sure, you get to keep a much larger percentage of the money, but you have to ask yourself if want to sell photos or run a publishing company. Without going into a lot of detail, just think of the logistics of printing, selling, delivering, invoicing, collecting, dealing with returns…hopefully you get the idea. Just for a quick example, I was once on the phone with a photographer who was starting his own greeting card company. He said he had to end the call because the printer had just delivered 250,000 greeting cards, and they were folded wrong! Can you imagine? No thanks! His greeting card company is no longer around.
To find a publisher just go to where greeting cards are sold and see who is publishing what. Your best chance to interest a publisher is to find one who carries the kind of work that you do. A publisher who distributes vintage Black and White humor cards is not likely to be interested in your close up flower shots.
Too, you have a much better chance of catching a publisher’s interest if you present a series rather than just one or two images. If I were looking for a publisher at this point I would mock-up a dozen cards, complete with inside text. The cards would work together. Some would be birthday cards and some would be for other holidays. Make it easy for a potential publisher to visualize what they would be selling.
If you believe in your images, take the royalty. The first greeting card that I licensed to my publisher, a smiling cat with a canary feather in its mouth, had I accepted a flat fee, would have brought me around $800.00. So far the royalties have come in at well over $5,000.00.
Some card companies have good over seas distribution, others have none. Some have their cards in mass-market retailers (Target, Walmart), others primarily distribute through small card shops. Some have their own sales force while others rely on agents that represent a number of card companies. Take the time to research the card company and make sure they are someone you want representing your work and you. This will be a partnership with more give and take than you might expect. It is a good idea to know your partner.
While you are researching, check how the publisher likes work to be submitted. It is a good bet that if you don’t take the time to pay attention to what they want, they might not take the time to pay attention to your work.
Before signing a contract make sure you understand the terms. They may want to have the right to negotiate any further licensing of your images. Not a good idea. Do they want worldwide rights? If so, do they have worldwide distribution? How quickly and how often do they pay? Do they offer an advance, and how much? Try contacting one of their artists and see what they think of the publisher. Take the time to understand every aspect of the contract, and don’t make the mistake of thinking that they will be looking out for you. They may like you, but they won’t be looking out for you.
By the way, most royalties start at 5%. I started at 5%, but as my work sold well and I became more valuable I was able to increase the percentage of my royalty. When you negotiate you can try to trade off a higher advance against a lower royalty or visa versa. Everything is on the table. In my case I eventually granted exclusivity for a higher royalty and managed to get my logo on the back of the cards too.
Getting your own line of greeting cards is a long shot. But it is possible. Do your research and find the right publisher. Prepare your submission meticulously and to their specifications. Submissions to multiple companies at once are fine. Use creativity, common sense and exercise perseverance. Oh yeah, and take the royalty.