One of the dumbest mistakes I ever made as a baby author transpired at my second big fan convention. And for all the crazed preparation and contingencies I’d laid out, I didn’t realize my error until I was on the ground schmoozing at 100 miles an hour. That first night, I was standing at the bar chatting with a colleague and they said, “Do you have a card?”
To my horror I realized I did not. Why would I? At my first genre event, an intimate reader con packed with fans, that kind of professional glad-handing would’ve seemed weird and stilted. After all, I had bookmarks, postcards, rack cards, and all this other paper swag emblazoned with my name and (in some cases) social media accounts. If someone wanted to find me, I reasoned, it would take about five seconds to hunt me down.
Not having a card made a certain stupid sense. After all, everyone has a cell phone. Everyone has a website. And I’m hardly a blushing flower in public settings. With all the other objects I had to haul back and forth to public genre events, why would I add one more item of dubious utility?
If anything, a card felt too personal and impersonal at the same time. I’ve had issues with stalkers and the last thing I want is my personal information out in the world. At the same time, if a colleague needed to reach me, why wouldn’t I just give them my contact info then and there? How could I produce a card that gave and withheld the right amount of information appropriate for regular use?
I came home from that conference and built a business card immediately, deeply mindful of the Goldilocks dilemma it presented: how to give the right amount of info, not too much and not too little. Primarily, I worried about my phone number. In this day and age numbers get sloshed around, but they are stalker candy and I didn’t need any more creeps turning up my front door…
Business cards work best as a practical, no-nonsense point of connection at conventions, and they can be handed to any professional you meet in person so they can connect with you later. In the end, I decided that my business card needed to include my:
- Author name.
- Email: Something simple, logical, and branded (e.g. Firstname@PenName.com, not email@example.com).
- Author logo (not limited to a single book or series).
- Author tagline (not limited to a single book or series).
- Social media handles.
- Mobile number (yes, really!).
Now…if the idea of giving your phone number out on a piece of cardstock gives you the willies, let me explain my logic. This business card never goes to casual fans or random contacts. You have bookmarks for those people and they can find you online when necessary. If you’re handing your card to people who don’t need your number, give them a bookmark instead. Your business cards should only go to people who need to be able to reach you with some degree of urgency because they might have a positive impact on your career.
Notice what isn’t listed: a physical address. If you use a PO Box for deliveries, groovy, but the number of people who need to mail you a physical package is too low to waste the space on the card. On the other hand, helpful colleagues do need to contact you easily. If anyone abuses your number, then block theirs and learn that lesson.
Barring legal complications or threats, sharing a number makes you accessible to reasonable promo allies. By including your mobile number you’ll make sure you don’t scatter these cards willy-nilly to all comers, but you’ll also signal to the people who receive your card that you expect professionalism.
Result: you’ll give out fewer cards, but they’ll matter more.
- Everything about it should reflect your authorial brand: color, typeface, orientation, shapes, scale, layout, artwork, text. In that, it should mirror your website and other significant promo platforms because it is a launching pad to them. Help people connect those dots so that they lead to you. Keep things legible and emotionally resonant.
- Use cardstock sturdy enough to survive pockets, purses, and worse. No flimsy nonsense that will tear, crease, or chip easily. No weird sizes or expensive embellishments. No scratch-n-sniff, embossed, magnetized craziness. Don’t waste money on gimmicks or frippery; instead aim for something stylish and practical that conveys your brand instantly.
- For best results, please don’t pigeonhole yourself by building your entire card around your current work-in-progress or release. When you’re first starting out, it’s tempting to lean heavily on that first book cover, or the subgenre of your latest plot bunny. But as with all your promo, the goal is for that card to embody your voice to people who may never have read anything you’ve written. Help them see all the kinds of stories you can tell them.
- Ditto with a logo and tagline: keep things focused on your overall brand rather than a specific series or title. Business cards are a perfect place to reinforce these core brand assets. The limited space also prove why shorter taglines and simple logos tend to work best: they can appear clearly in more contexts.
- Don’t feel like you have to spend a fortune on cards either, especially if you’re starting out. Plenty of online printers offer insanely cheap rates for small runs of full-color cards; just make sure they don’t feature someone else’s logo or info. If you need to pay, it’s worth a couple bucks to remove printer logos so your cards space is devoted to you and your career and not someone else’s.
- If you aren’t a professional graphic designer, please hire someone to design them so they don’t look like hell in a diaper. Used properly, a business card should be going into the hands of pivotal positive presences in your professional life. Certainly you don’t want to hand them something that looks shoddy or bizarre.
- Test the mockup before you do a bulk order. These days plenty of online printers will do short runs for a few bucks. Give these crashtest prototypes to friends, family, and strangers to make sure they’re branded, legible, grammatical, and punctuated properly. Can everyone find the basics easily and swiftly? In a pile of other cards do they stand out? Do they TELEGRAPH your brand to all onlookers? Can a stranger suss your vibe and voice at a glance? Only then should you buy in bulk.
In some circles, business cards can feel like an anachronism. Personal cards date from the Jurassic era of the business landscape… when water coolers and carbon paper roamed the Earth. In the post-Rolodex universe, carrying around small rectangles of paper which will inevitably get lost or discarded seems wasteful and reductive.
But never lose sight of the time involved with the tasks of being an author.
In this industry, attention is the most precious asset. When you’re navigating a fan event at full speed surrounded by hundreds, even thousands of people, you don’t always have time to stop and drop the digits or spell your email. You may not have a pen…they may not have a second to spare. Significantly, many folks in the media including reporters, bloggers, and semipro reviewers, maintain rigorous contact lists which depend on regularly updated details. It’s simple courtesy. Industry folks with jobs to do expect you to help you help them help you.
A credible professional expects you to behave credibly and professionally.
On that tip, don’t thrust your business card at people randomly. One of the weird habits newbie authors get into is pressing random swag on others unasked. Oy. It neither sells books nor promotes your career because that lack of focus telegraphs panic and desperation. And as we learn from show business, there is no greater repellent than human desperation. Unwanted cards end up in the hotel bins by the handful. A business card should be a bridge to further conversation with someone with whom you’ve connected meaningfully.
Business cards are for business. Hand them to the local reporter who might attend your library signing or the Bustle blogger who wants to chat about your genre mashups. Slide one to the hilarious editor at the hotel bar who’s curious about your novella. Offer it to the cover designer who totally digs your work and considers you her graphic design muse. You give them, in short, to the people you want to contact you in whatever way possible for your professional progress.
And finally, rather than thinking of your business cards as conference garbage waiting to happen, consider what they actually represent: your value and expertise as a professional, the possibility of a creative, lucrative relationship in the right hands. You wouldn’t dispense them to just anyone.
Try to forget they’re paper. Who needs them? Who deserves them? Where can those cards land so that they do the most good for you and your colleagues? Treat those cards as though they’re precious. Make a goal for yourself at your next event and ration your stack of cards like they are platinum and caviar until they’re out of your hands, and then let them go knowing they’re in the right hands.
If there’s someone need to meet, your goal isn’t just to force a card on them, but rather to have a conversation meaningful enough that they ask for one…and keep it…and use it so they can stay in touch and transform your career. If they don’t ask for your card, odds are they’ll never look at it again. Make your talent and knowledge available to likeminded colleagues, without obsessing or expecting things to go as you imagine them. Ay, there’s the rub.
Have cards on you at all times. You never know when a critical convo might happen. Pay attention and build relationships with people who do likewise. All you can do is hand the right people that card and then deal.