Know your Onions … Bev Cunningham gives her top tips on how to submit artwork to greeting card publishers

There are around 800 hundred greeting card publishers in the UK alone, a proportion of whom license artwork & photographic imagery from freelance artists, designers, illustrators and photographers.

But how do you get your work seen and ultimately published by a card company? With over 25 years experience as a creative director in the greeting card industry and now working freelance, both licensing my own imagery and representing other artists, I understand the industry from both sides of the creative fence. So in this post from our “Know your Onions” series, I am giving you my top tips on how to go about submitting your artwork and imagery to improve your chances of being commissioned and getting your work licensed.

Do your research

By doing some initial research you will save both your and potential publishers’ time and trouble.  Take the time to make a list of all the card companies that publish cards appropriate to the type and style of imagery you are offering.  It’s no good sending cute illustrations to a company that specialises in adult humour or traditional art to a publisher of trendy, contemporary cards.  You can find out what publishers offer by visiting trade shows, researching online, reading trade press or simply visiting card shops (the majority of publishers put their company name and web address on the reverse of their products). Take a look at the members directory on the GCA website and in these times of COVID when exhibitions aren’t currently taking place, look up the most recent catalogue entries on exhibition websites such as Spring Fair, where you can filter exhibitors by product type.  

Check publishers websites for specific submission requirements

Obtain a named email

Many publishers have a submissions page on their website, giving details of their submission requirements and prefer not to be contacted other than via email. Others don’t give any details, so once you have found your ideal publishers, it is worth trying to contact each of them direct and ask if they are accepting submissions (some may have an in-house team and never use freelance artists).  If they are, find out to whom they should be sent. Ideally obtain a name & an email address, some publishers have a generic submissions@ email, which means it will probably be a studio junior who will be considering and filtering the submissions and not the studio manager or art director; so try your hardest to obtain an actual name.

Timings

Timings

If you have a named contact and are able to speak to them, find out if they are looking for anything in particular and when they prefer to receive submissions, especially seasonal submissions. It’s no good submitting Christmas artwork when they may be putting together their Easter ranges. By making an initial contact, not only will you have ascertained what the publisher is interested in but also they will be expecting your submission and are more likely to give it attention when it hits their inbox. 

What to send

Each publisher will probably have different preferences as to how they like to see work presented but as an initial introduction to you and your style of work, you can’t go wrong with a pdf presentation sheet, containing samples of your work plus all your contact details and links to other sources of examples such as Instagram and websites. This is a quick and efficient way for a publisher to see what you can offer and even if they can’t commission you at that particular time, they may keep hold of the pdf for future reference. It also prevents your email getting rejected by their email server, which may be set not to accept large file attachments. Include about 8 to 10 examples of your work, to show the breadth of your style and capabilities

A sample of a pdf presentation sheet. I’m not a graphic designer but managed to put this together in Canva

Provide the vision

If you have a concept for a range of greeting cards, create a pdf that shows how the imagery could be used to create an entire range, include artwork mocked up into cards with captions etc.  Most publishers will license the imagery and create their own card artwork but it sometimes helps to show how you see your artwork working as a greeting card and complete range.  

How to send

In this day and age most submissions are sent via email; but we all know how full our inboxes look and how when prioritising emails, many can be left unread or go straight to the junk folder. It therefore can sometimes be beneficial to send a postal submission to stand out from the crowd.  If you do send a physical submission, don’t send actual artwork (laser copies or photographs are preferable) and if you want the submission to be returned, then do include a stamped self-addresses envelope.  Also bear in mind that many people are at present working from home, so a postal submission to the publisher’s office may not be appropriate right now.

Follow up

Many publishers are inundated with submissions, many may not reply unless they are interested.  However if you haven’t heard back after three or four weeks it doesn’t hurt to follow up and ask if they have had a chance to look at your submission.  I know this is hard for a lot of artists / creatives, as we all hate rejection but what is the worst that could happen?  They will either ignore your call or say your work isn’t right for their current direction / house style etc.  But then again they may have seen your work, put it to one side and forgotten until you called. 

Keep trying, don’t take rejection personally

Don’t get too disheartened if you keep getting rejections, it’s probably down to a number of factors out of your control and may not be anything to do with the standard of your work. The publisher probably already has a long list of freelancers they can call upon for certain types of artwork… or the timing of your submission is wrong … or your work is too similar to something they already publish.  Publishers are always looking for something original, so the more original your style the better your chances are of getting noticed. 

Consider signing up with an agent

If you just want to concentrate on creating artwork and don’t want to go through the slog of the virtual knocking on publishers’ doors then why not consider being represented by an artists’ agent.  They have contact and regular meetings with publishers, know who is looking for what and can professionally present your work.  They can give tips on what to include and not to include in your portfolio, as well as take briefs and negotiate prices.  Obviously they take commission but this offsets the time you may spend chasing work and payment; leaving you more time to create.  If you want to find out more about representation please drop me a line at bev@gingerbeestudios.com .

A little bit about me the author of this post … I am Bev Cunningham, founder and facilitator of the Creative Card Collective Facebook group, which I set up to support the creative community within the greeting card industry, with information and advice on all topics related to design and cards. As a photographer and freelance creative director I supply imagery to card companies, but was for many years a in-house creative director for a greeting card publisher. You can find me online at gingerbeestudios.com , on Instagram  and Facebook.

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