Writing Verses for Greeting Cards: My Experience Submitting Poetry to Blue Mountain Arts
Around two years ago, I was going through a relatively difficult time. As a single parent, I had just lost the part-time job that had helped me make ends meet, and without a reliable income, life was a struggle. The occasional work I did as a course mentor and on writing projects was nowhere near enough to sustain my family on a long-term basis. When my partner and I were still together, it would have felt like a nice extra, but on its own it felt insignificant. Needless to say, although I like to remain as positive as possible, underneath I was really anxious about the future.
Writing has always been my 'thing'. Up until that time, I had written creative course content for an online course run by my local university. I had written articles online, and I was also given the job of creating a children's story based on biology. Determined to find new sources of income, I scoured the web for freelance writing opportunities.
Writing For the Greetings Card Industry
I am definitely not a technical or academic writer, which limited my options somewhat, but I do love writing poetry. In fact, I love it more than anything, although poetry is traditionally the most difficult way to make money as a writer. One of the ways that poetry can be viewed commercially, however, is when it is written as a verse inside a greetings card.
In fact, the greetings card industry is huge.
Blue Mountain Arts
Keen to give writing for greeting cards companies a go, I started to research the possibilities online. Many of the top companies do not accept unsolicited submissions - in fact, they often have an in-house team of writers who produce all their verses. However, there were a few - and one company, in particular, stood out for me. That company was Blue Mountain Arts, based in Boulder, Colorado.
Blue Mountain Arts is a very established company, first setting down humble roots in 1971. Its founders, Susan and Stephen Pollis, sold posters of her poetry combined with his artwork from their camper as they travelled. I loved the idea of that - although since then Blue Mountain Arts has evolved into a huge and very successful business.
Out of the few greetings card companies I came across which accept submissions, Blue Mountain Arts easily offered the most attractive pay arrangements. If your work is accepted, Blue Mountain Arts become the owner of the works. However, they will pay you $300 for the first poem they purchase; $400 for the second; $500 for the third; $600 for the fourth; $700 for the fifth, and thereafter. This makes them the highest paying company in the industry, as far as my research has shown me. What's more, they actively encourage you to submit your work - if you look at the back of any Blue Mountain card, you will see this invitation; their website suggests the same.
A Waiting Game
After you have submitted your work to Blue Mountain Arts (by email is the preferred way), you play a waiting game. You will quickly receive an email advising you that your submission has been received, and that you will hear back by a specified date if your work has been selected for market review (the next step towards publication).
If they like your work enough to consider it for the market review, they will send you a Public Option Agreement (POA). The first time you receive a POA, it will come via post since you have to physically sign and return the agreement; any subsequent offers can be accepted by email. When you sign a POA, you are basically giving them permission to 'use' your work for the market review, and you relinquish the choice to publish it or use it anywhere else during that time. The terms of the agreement last for 24 months - you should expect to hear whether or not they would like to purchase your work within that time-frame. It is a long time to wait; however, I considered it a worthwhile venture.
How Many of My Submissions Were Accepted?
I submitted 42 poems and verses to Blue Mountain Arts between May 2016 and November 2016. Before I started writing, I made a visit to a local card shop to research the kind of product Blue Mountain Arts produce. They are strong on sentiment and many of the verses on their greetings cards are quite long. Their stance is to create cards that 'speak' emotionally to a loved one; they do not like rhyming verse. In a nutshell, they are aiming to provide the words people sometimes struggle to find themselves.
Less than a month passed, and I received an agreement in the post - a POA for four of my initial 10 poems. It was a very professional contract, saying they enjoyed my work and would like to put the selected poems forward for market review. It explained that this entails ownership for 24 months, plus the right to modify work and produce it for sale on notecards, greetings cards and anything else they may choose, for the purpose of market research. I was incredibly excited and felt very hopeful - surely, if there was not a reasonably high chance of eventual purchase, Blue Mountain Arts would not go to such a great deal of effort.
I happily signed and returned the contract with renewed hope for the future.
Motivated to Continue
Buoyed on by the success of my first submission - 40% of my work snapped up for the market review - I immediately began to work on more poems for Blue Mountain Arts. Despite knowing I would have to wait up to two entire years to find out if my efforts had paid off, I decided it was worth it. Rejection is to be expected when you are a creative writer - my initial success felt very promising. I assumed that if they couldn't envisage my words on their products, I would have received an out-and-out rejection (which basically amounts to not hearing at all).
I was extremely happy to receive yet more Publication Option Agreements over the summer. The way in which they were worded really inspired me to continue - phrases such as "once again we would like to include [your work] in an upcoming market review"; "it is with great pleasure that I contact you again today", or "we enjoy reviewing your work" were really uplifting. The emails felt both personable and professional, and always came from the same person.
Each time I submitted a few verses (my first submission consisted of 10; thereafter it was usually between 2 and 4) at least one poem was selected for market review. I started to feel that I was definitely on to something here; that I could raise my annual income by a few thousand dollars if I stuck at it.
All in all, from my 42 submissions between May and November 2016, 13 were selected for market review. That means my success rate was 31%. In fact, 31% is quite a high success rate in the world of creative writing, so I was extremely happy.
I did, however, stop writing verses to submit to Blue Mountain Arts in November 2016, due to another writing opportunity that presented itself. Also, I decided to play the waiting game and wait for the market review results, in order to ascertain just how much of a valuable stream of income this might be.
After all, due to the pay scale described previously, if all my poems were successful under market review, I would have earned $8100 from my work. In reality, I didn't for one moment expect Blue Mountain Arts to purchase ALL of my work, but I certainly expected something.
As a reader, this is probably the part you have been waiting for all along - the results of the market review.
In the end, I didn't have to wait the entire 24 months (I think they just like to make sure they give themselves enough time). I received the first set of results in December 2017, just before Christmas and 16 months after receiving the first POA. It was the result for 6 of my poems. The email thanked me for giving Blue Mountain Arts the opportunity to view my work, and thanked me for my patience, but explained that 'unfortunately [my work] was not successful at this time'.
I will admit to feeling very disappointed that, despite my initial feelings of excitement, not a single poem from that particular market review was chosen.
In May 2018, I received another email from Blue Mountain Arts. Again, the results were disappointing - from the 4 poems entered from the second market review, none were successful in making it any further
That leaves just 3 poems which are still being considered, but I am not holding out much hope. And even if any of my final poems are successful, after all the initial positivity and the long wait, I don't think I would attempt another submission. After all, most of the time when an artist submits work for consideration, the first point of contact is usually either a 'thanks but no thanks', or a definite mark of interest. It feels like Blue Mountain Arts offers false hope, since if 10 poems selected for market review can result in no offers at all, that is clearly an ultimate success rate of less than 10% even when a Public Option Agreement (an actual contract) has been drawn up.
Not only that, but way back in June 2016, when I received my first agreement in the post, the letter stipulated that, from the huge amount of submissions received, my work had been selected. Words like that do make an artist feel as though there is a real chance of publication, but my experience, thus far, hasn't shown that. Personally, I would have preferred if my work had been rejected in the first instance - it seems their business model is to select a large amount of work for market review - and then ultimately choose to purchase very few.