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Thursday, July 03, 2008

The business of cards

by Terry McLaughlin

In the interest of lowering the pre-conference stress level, I'm going to offer the following observation: a lack of business cards never prevented any writer from selling a manuscript or making a connection or beginning a friendship with another writer. So if you have no hope of getting business cards made before you head to San Francisco, relax.

But if your conference plans include business cards, keep this in mind: just as your choice of clothing and the firmness of your handshake will make an impression on the people you meet, so will your business card. Will that impression be the competent professional? Or will it be the clueless amateur? It's relatively easy and inexpensive to make a good impression, so check out places like VistaPrint, Earthly Charms, Online Print House, or your local print shop to order some cards for yourself.

Some of the best advice I've seen about business cards for writers can be found in this post on Miss Snark's blog archive. Her discussion is so logical and thorough, in fact, that all I can add is some personal experience.

How many cards did I used to take with me to a conference? About fifty, just in case. How many did I ever use? About half that many. What was my first business card lesson? To keep the cards handy--in a pocket, so I could produce one quickly. What was my second lesson? To provide plenty of white space for adding important information (difficult to do on a dark or crowded card).

What was my third lesson? You'll notice the sentences in that previous paragraph were all in the past tense. As I mentioned in a comment earlier on this year's blog, now that I'm published, I don't use business cards. I use bookmarks instead. There are several reasons for this choice to do away with the cards: my editor and my agent both know how to get in touch with me; the other published authors I meet don't exchange cards; I'd rather offer any readers I meet a bookmark instead of a business card, and my essential contact information--my Web site address--is on my bookmarks, anyway.

But while I was unpublished, I enjoyed making my business cards (yes, I broke one of Miss Snark's rules). I always used the graphics, colors, and fonts found on my Web site, and I always kept the design on the front of the card--the all-important contact information--fairly simple and clean. Here you can see the front and back views of the last card I created, for the RWA conference in Atlanta, more than two years ago.

And it was in Atlanta that I enjoyed a fun luncheon where everyone at my table exchanged business cards. Those cards were wonderful conversation starters, and they helped me make nine new acquaintances.

A final lesson: consider your business card a treat for yourself--a sign of your commitment to your new profession and a tool for making some new friends.


At 9:27 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

I hadn't really thought about cards as being mostly for other authors, as Miss Snark claims, until reading this. I've had editors in appointments ask for my card, and I've had them hand me their cards when they make a request. I remember several editors writing notes on my cards, too, to remind them of what I was sending. I figured they kept the cards until they received what they requested. So maybe Miss Snark doesn't want them, but some other editors and agents do. Or they're writing a grocery list on the back?!

I agree that the bulk of those cards will be given to authors you meet. I've never given away as many as 25, Terry. I'm impressed that you have. Next conference I go to, I'm going to do the card hand out at the table. What a great idea!

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Mo :-)! Once an editor asked for my card, too, during a pitch session. I didn't get the idea that she wouldn't consider my work if I hadn't had a card, but it was certainly nice to be prepared :-).

At another pitch session the next day, I offered my card, but the agent turned it down. She explained she was making all her notes on the appointment sheet. She showed me the sheet, and yes, there was a bit of handwriting beside most of the names. She told me it was easier to keep everything in one place like that, and she had more room to write more notes.

I always liked it when editors or agents handed me their cards when making a request, as you mentioned. It gave me their contact info in a handy format. As for my own contact info, it was always on the query or cover letter I sent with my submission ;-).

One of the reasons I gave away so many cards was because I asked for so many :-). I enjoy design, and I was curious about other people's ideas and choices. I still have a drawer full of cards I've collected over the years.

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

Let me add Printing For Less to the recommendations. I've used them for bookmarks, and they've just added magnets to their offerings.

I can't say enough about their customer service. I called to ask a question about designing a magnet using my book cover, and as a returning customer they said, "oh, we're not going to charge an extra setup fee if you want to add text".

Then, when I was filling out the on-line information, I clicked "enter" instead of "tab" and the form zipped off into cyberspace. I called back to see if they got it, and to apologize for my error, and their rep took the whole order over the phone, and the proofs were ready the same day.

They have a great referral program as well (I can give anyone a code for a discount on a first order)which put the entire cost of 500 magnets at about $50.

I've done do-it-myself business cards because I keep changing the information I want to include, depending on where I'm using them. Someday, I keep telling myself, I'll come up with a design worth paying to have a whole bunch printed.

(And I know VistaPrint cards are free, but I've heard some horror stories, plus they have their logo on the back, which seems to say, "too cheap to buy cards" to me. JMHO, of course.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Nice cards and good advice, Terry.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Thanks for the recommendation of another good place to get cards printed, Terry :-). I've said "someday" to myself, too, about a design so long-lasting it would be worth getting a bundle of cards ;-).

Thank you, too, Trish, for the kind comments :-).

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Oh, this is all great to know. Thanks to both Terry's for the info! :)

Do you still ask people for a business card, Terry? Or if another author asks you for one, you hand them a bookmark? Sounds like a good plan to me!

I have a drawer full of business cards, too. They are fun reminders of people I've met throughout the years.

And Terry O., that site sounds wonderful. I love magnets! What a deal!

Can't wait to see you all at conference.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Janet Mullany said...

It's a good thing there are so many places to get free, or almost-free biz cards, because I tend to change mine about once a year.

I love the table idea, too. I always make a point of sitting with people I don't know at events--to me, that's the point!

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Theresa :-)! I've never had a fellow author ask me for either a business card or a bookmark, and I've never offered them in author-only settings. If I'm sitting beside an author at a booksigning, we might admire each other's bookmarks, and I might pick up hers because I'm interested in the design. But those interchanges are more about passing the time than they are about networking or promotion.

As for asking other people for their cards--I don't do that as much as I used to. Perhaps it's because I don't have a card to offer in return that I'm less likely to bring up the subject ;-). If cards appear, however, I'm always eager to take one :-).

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Janet, I try to sit with people I don't know, too. Sometimes I don't get that chance--if a friend has invited me to sit with her, for instance--but I've always enjoyed those times I made new acquaintances around a big banquet table. It's SO much fun, isn't it :-)?

At 5:14 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

I never listened to Ms Snark, because my experience was the opposite, with lots of editors and agents commenting favorably on my cards. I do one for each available book, and at last year's conference book-signing, an editor asked if she could have one of each card (probably giving them to her cover artists and saying, "do one like this." Thanks, Ms X.) I've had other editors say things like "Can I keep this?" (Uhm, yes...)

But I agree, the smart editor was the one who kept a list.

But cards for networking are sometimes surprising. Recently I did a book cover design for an author, and I kept thinking something about her was familiar. Finally it dawned on me I had her old business crd, so I went back to my old stack and yep, there it was.
Then I remembered we had met in 1996 while sitting at the Dallas airport for four hours waiting for the thunderstorms to quit. When we finally got on the plane, we taxied around the runway and came back to the gate. Everybody off. I stayed on the plane with a mid-grade boy who had CP and couldn't get off because he didn't have his wheelchair (in baggage). We took off around 5:00, and of course all our connecting flights out of St. Louis were long gone. So she and I had spent quite a few hours together, but that was the end of the contact. I think neither of us had an internet connection then.

When I told her, she went through her stack of cards, and there was mine with a penciled note, "met at airport".

I've always designed my own card, but then I can do them as well as a printer can. Lately though I've had VistaPrint do my designs for a lot less than I can print them. It's not true that they have their logo on the back- only for their own standard designs. If you use the Premium Card with your own design, you can often get them free or for no more than the price of the downloaded design and shipping. After that, you don't pay the download price again. But watch them and be sure you're getting the price you expected because they may add extra for glossy coat or printing the back side. Just wait and get on their mailing list. A better deal will be offered soon.

At 11:05 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Lots of good information here! I did my business cards at 123Print and they did a great job and the cards arrived quickly. I went with the upgrade on the card stock and was glad that I did. I wanted them to match my website and I think they do. They've received favorable reviews from everyone who has seen them so far. LOL! These cards are primarily for LOST IN LOVE, my GH finalist. I think I may do something a bit different for The Raven's Heart as it is a very different book - a Gothic historical/Regency. I will definitely be collecting business cards as I want tangible mementos of all of the great people I finally get to meet at Nationals!

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Delle :-)! Yes, you do a great job with your cards :-).

Hi, Louisa :-)! Thanks for another recommendation for a good source for business cards. And congratulations on your contest final :-)!

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Tess said...

I too make my own cards. With the way things can change, I don't want to get a bunch printed, even at a reasonable price, only to have to chuck them if my email address changes or something like that. And if they're mostly for other authors, do we really judge each other on whether we produced our own cards or had them printed for us?


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