Thursday, March 25, 2010

Business Cards and Other Trappings

JT sent us an email with a whole slew of business-related questions. We're going to take her questions in stages, starting with one about business cards. (Don't forget -- you can email us at edittorrent@ gmail dot com with questions, or just post them in the comments.)

So, let's start with the basic proposition that writers don't use business cards the same way that, for example, an attorney or salesman would use them. In those professions, business cards are used to try to connect with new clients. Basic contact information is included, maybe a logo, and that's it. The professional hands out hundreds of cards over the course of a year. Every new encounter is a chance for a new business connection.

Authors can use business cards in the same way to promote new releases or backlist. Wherever you go, you meet potential new fans, and passing out a little reminder in the form of a business card is probably a cheap and easy way to promote your books. Bookmarks might be a bit more friendly, but it won't hurt to have business cards with your pen name and releases listed, your website url, your twitter or facebook profiles, and that sort of thing. You can select graphics that build your brand, and you can use the front and back side of the card to include more graphics or blurbs.

But you wouldn't want to hand out your phone number to strangers in the checkout line, would you? So in that case, you might leave off some of your contact information, just for privacy's sake.

And in that case, the card won't do you much good at an industry conference. When you're at a conference and you hand your card to an agent or editor, we want it to have contact information. In fact, it's the main thing we want, plus something that will help us remember you when we're thinking back over the hundreds of people we met. I frequently jot notes on the backs of business cards indicating where I met the author, who introduced us, hair color, details of the conversation, anything that might trigger my memory when I pick up the card later.

Notice that I do actually make use of these cards. I know some folks will toss them after the conference, but I tend to keep them. Not always, though. The ones I toss are the ones from casual encounters (not pitches or other formal meetings) where there was no place for me to write my notes. The card may be beautiful, with glossy roses and swirly text and stars and rainbows and all good things. But if it doesn't help me remember my particular encounter with the author, it's not serving my purpose.

A very smart author once came into a pitch and handed me a very ordinary business card together with a fancy bookmark with all her book covers on it. That impressed me right out of the starting gate. It told me she understood the difference between promoting herself to readers and interacting with other professionals. I was able to use the card to make my notes, and you better believe that one of my notes was about her pretty bookmark.

Another author handed me a somewhat fancier card with her log line pitch pre-printed on the back. This was during a pitch, and that approach made a lot of sense. But outside of a pitching environment, it might not be as effective. And the logistics are a bit confounding. How many pitch cards do you have printed? Do you still get regular cards, too, or just go with bookmarks? I don't know the answers to those questions, but perhaps Team Comments will have better insights.

Another author once handed me a postcard with her book cover and jacket copy on it, and as we were talking, she peeled a sticker off a label sheet and affixed it to the card. The label had her contact information. I thought that was clever, and I'm surprised more people don't do something like that. It let her get around the problem of whether to get different kinds of business cards printed, or whether to spend her money on promotional items or cards or both.

That said, I appreciate business cards more than bookmarks or postcards, mainly because they're easier for me to index and store. I have a plastic case for them. They're alphabetized for search purposes, though I run into problems sometimes with the whole pen name/real name thing. I'm bad with names to begin with, and it's a new fresh hell to have to remember two names for everyone. Please consider putting all your various names on your cards. This won't help me with my indexing system, but it will help me connect your names and brands to the person I met in the bar.

Another helpful thing -- put something like Author or Freelance Writer or something on your card. I keep my author cards in a separate place from all the cards for typesetters, e-book designers, web designers, freelance editors, cover artists, SEO specialists, publicists, booksellers, distributor reps, printers, and all the other non-author business types I encounter. I don't care what job title you assign yourself, though my weird personal quirk is that I tend to read "Author" as someone already published and "Writer" as someone at the beginning of their career. I don't know if this is universal, but I doubt it. And I have no idea where I absorbed that particular distinction.

So that's my take on author business cards. If you have particular questions or tips, please do post them in the comments.



Taylor Mathews said...

This is very helpful information, thank you.

My questions are about pen names:
When I did a quick google search of my name, the first 100 or so listings were for a porn star of the same name. I'd use my married name, but it is equally confusing (as it's the same name twice). How do authors go about choosing pen names? What are the pros/cons of having a pen name? What percentage of authors use pen names versus their real names?

Julie Harrington said...

Thank you, thank you, Theresa! This helped immensely!

The logistics of function between a promotional business card and a professional industry card were giving me pause and everything I read just wasn't giving enough details. The pen name/real name advice was tremendously helpful because while your publisher might know you're Jane Smith, the rest of the world knows you as Jillian Sinclair and then what? Do you introduce yourself as the pen name? Do you use your real name and get that blank stare blink:blink thing going? Nobody tells you these things.

For industry business cards, should you include the Facebook page, twitter page along with website? I'm assuming yes...but you know what they say about that.

Oh, and what about correspondence. I recently read that your envelopes and paper should match up and form a "set" but it was unclear if they meant a *professional* set for industry use and another set for *fan* use or just for one function over the other?

I think the blog has talked about building a brand before (I'll have to dig back through the tags) but I was curious about the comment regarding graphics to build brand. Any helpful hints or suggestions on questions we -- as the author -- should ask ourselves when selecting that? If it's already in a past blog, feel free to ignore that question. I'll track it down. :)


Julie Harrington said...

Taylor -- I have a similar problem. With the last name "Harrington" there are several writers already established in my genre. A lot of people I know want me to use the Harrington name, but I want a pen name -- one for privacy, two because other people already have it, and three because I think Harrington sounds too formal for my genre (short contemporary romance). I had no clue what name I wanted. Maiden names were out as well. So this is a huge struggle for me and I'd love more info on that. I've heard rumors that publishers will often suggest or even have lists of suggested pen names. Don't know if that's true though.


Wes said...

Great information.

BTW, I, too, associate author with being published and writer with working to get there.

Riley Murphy said...

These are great tips. I do have a thing about card texture and the lack of available white space on business cards these days. I find too many people want to get glossy cards. They have them printed on both sides with all kinds of graphics. And you know? I can honestly say, I've never looked at a business card and said to myself, "Man, this one's a keeper - look at those adorable kittens." Nope. I'm more inclined to jot something down on a card that's not glossy and has available white space - and keep it forever because the info it holds now is personal and mine in some way.

I’m also not a big fan of your picture on your business card. I know any good marketing person will tell you to put your face out there but, I’ve seen too many fridges in my time that have the dreaded business card magnet that the kids got hold of. Beautiful Helen, you met down at the last Chamber of Commerce breakfast now looks like a toothless hag that was caught in Dr. Frankenstein’s operating room. You know, with those ladder type scars crisscrossing all over the place. *Insert shudder here as I recall* My honey’s business partner came for one of our infamous BBQ’s several years ago - and unbeknownst to me - he spied one of his doctored photo cards on our fridge. A good one too! Devil horns and nasty eyebrow type stuff (my daughter’s very creative :) ). So he never said anything but he took it. And when honey went to get into his car the next morning there it was staring at him on the car door with a sticky note that read: “I’m crushed.” That kind of stuck with me. So, no doodle art face potential for me.

Murphy :D

Dave Shaw said...


At least you have a face worth putting on a card. I think I'd do better with the rat. LOL

Lisa_Gibson said...

Great advice! I've always tended to think of authors as published and writers potentially not being published too.

Edittorrent said...

Lots of great questions here. I'll add some of them to the post queue.

Murphy, if your friend entered the publishing game, his skin would thicken in no time. Next thing you know, he'd be standing in front of your fridge, admiring his author's publicity still, including the extra pizazz lent it by the devil horns. And he'd be saying, "Sweet! My book cover made your fridge! I RULE!"


Riley Murphy said...

@Theresa - LOL!!! You know you have a point. A person's image is all in the way it's perceived. So, I'll share a hilarious secret that a cop told me once. (lean in because I can't say it too loud on account of him maybe listening) He said, when you go and get your licence picture taken - completely mess up your hair and smudge your make-up - for a guy don't shave for a day) and then get your picture taken. So, when you get pulled over at some future point and you don't look any worse than your picture - in fact you look better than it - they’ll have to let you go.

Same thing only different, right? You might not like what your picture looks likes but, it does the job. Not sure about the devil horns though, and I forgot to mention the snaking tail that curves over the head with one of those triangular points on the end of it. My Girlie-girl was really into those for a few years. I must confess - I was bad. For a while there, I collected various business cards from certain people for the express purpose of artistic expression in my household. (hehehe) But, now that the kids are away a college? The fun has been sucked out of the fridge art - because I have no one to blame. Is that bad? It is, isn’t it?

Murphy :D

Jami Gold said...

LOL! And here I thought I was the only one that couldn't invite neighbors over (real estate agents three doors down) because they'd see their devil horns on the fridge. Hilarious! :)

Anyway, great advice here. In regards to a pen name, I'd recommend either keeping the first name (or having something similar enough that you'll recognize someone calling you from across the room) and changing the last name to something with the same first initial (then Theresa could file you in the right place either way :) ).

Jami G.

Leona said...

It's funny you should post this because I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Just before leaving (shudder) Texas, I won a book and the author sent a pen and a bookmark. I used that bookmark until my children decided it was way cool and took it from me. I still have the pen, and of course, the book.

It got me to thinking about promotional tools and how much a publisher provides and how much I needed to be prepared for.

In my previous lives as Realtor (and yes, it's capitolized as it's a copyrighted name and the name of a "group" and you had to pay to use it :D)and insurance agent, cards were essential and everyone said put your picture on it.

Now, though, I'd rather use a cover of a book, or something clever that allowed printing across the card right over it. Then, I wondered who would I give it to?

Since my former life included sales and marketing, I'd have no problem handing my card out to the next person in line at the grocery store. However, I don't have an office phone number and I hate answering the phone. (email definitely preferred method of contact!) Quite a quandry for someone as friendly and outgoing as I am LOL

Thanks again, and Murphy and Jami? That is so awesome LOL give your kids charcoal pencils and a sketchpad!! Even if they are over 20 now in Murphy's case :P

Theresa Milstein said...

This is a helpful post. I'm about to have new business cards made for the NESCBWI and BlogHer conferences I'm attending this year and I've been wrestling about what to include.

Since I don't have books or fans, I don't mind putting my contact info. And I'll make sure to put "Writer" now that you make the distinction. I'm going to include my blog info as well.

em said...

I use business cards and they are glossy. :( That is a good idea about the bookmark. Thanks Teresa!
@Murphy LOL about the refridgerator card magnets. Poor Helen. :)

Wes said...

Go Bulldogs!!!!!!

Genella deGrey said...

This year when I made my business cards for the Romantic Times Booklover's Convention, I knew my target audience would be the readers. My cards can also double as a bookmark. I have my current release on one side, and my June release on the other.

I don't have anywhere for you to write this time, Theresa! ;) But we already know each other anyway.

I think my cards are cute the way I designed them & I'm really excited to hand them out.


Lilly Cain said...

I have a business card - You have mine Theresa, LOL - that is for editors and agents, and then I have bookmarks (or I will have when I get them back from the printer) for fans. :) The business cards say author Lilly Cain and have my website theme in the background, and then in the corner they have my real name and contact info and website. The back is blank and white for comments (this was my instruction from way-back-when in business school).

The bookmarks have the same background theme but also have my cover, and all my pen name info - website, facebook, twitter.


Jami Gold said...

Leona said: ...and Jami? That is so awesome LOL give your kids charcoal pencils and a sketchpad!!

Who said kids had done the drawing in my house? :) *whistling innocently*

Jami G.