By LOIS KEANEY SMITH, student in the Writing and Consciousness MFA program and intern in the CIIS Communications Department.
Recently, I attended the opening night party for LitQuake, the Bay Area’s nine-day literary festival. I snagged this plum invite because I was reading in LitCrawl, the literary “pub crawl” portion of the festival. None of the other readers from my MFA program could make it, so I went to the party by myself, feeling like a teenager who shows up to prom without a date. No one was dancing when I arrived. A disco ball whirred on the ceiling, a dj spun a danceable mix, and literary folk milled around wearing devil horns (the party’s theme was The Devil’s Lexicon.) Knowing that writers can be shy, the LitQuake organizers very kindly provided us with an ice breaker: literary bingo. I wandered around, searching for writers who had a literary tattoo, or whose book had been made into a movie (both boxes on the literary bingo game).
The ice breaker worked wonders. I met an MFA student from another school, as well as the editor of a literary magazine, who helped me cross off a lot of squares on my bingo game. At a certain point in the conversation, he asked me the dreaded question: What do you do? I told him I was an MFA student, and, of course, a writer. Then he asked me, “Do you have a website with your work on it?”
I hesitated. I didn’t have a portfolio website yet, but I managed to name a site where I’d published an essay. Balancing his LitQuake program on my knee, I scrawled down the URL, smearing the ink slightly with my hand (I’m left-handed, so I do this all the time). I returned the program, feeling slightly sheepish; a moment had presented itself, and I was totally unprepared. I had no cool-looking business card to give him, only a messily scrawled address to a website that wasn’t even mine.
I’m taking a class this semester called The Business of Art, in which MFA students from the Writing and Consciousness and Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts programs learn techniques for marketing ourselves as “cultural producers.” Our professor, Christian L. Frock, is a cultural producer in her own right: She’s an artist, writer, and independent curator, as well as the creator of Invisible Venue, an enterprise that collaborates with artists to present art in unexpected settings.
Frock is consistent in stressing the importance of a good business card and a “web presence” as vital components in a successful networking strategy. Early this semester, she asked us to make the leap and to create our own cards. I poked around several business card-making websites, and found a few design templates geared towards writers. One had a typewriter on the front, which looked okay, but a bit generic. Another used a graphic of a pen, which, again, seemed a little obvious.
I wanted something simple and also professional. After hunting through all the possible templates, I picked one and designed my own card. The result looked interesting: On the front I placed my initials in red, Edwardian script, and beneath the initials I wrote my full name and my title, Writer ~ Editor ~ Dance Instructor (I teach ballroom dance, so I figured I might as well incorporate that side venture into my business card). Finally, underneath my title I typed my phone number and email address. Aside from my initials, all text on the card was black or grey.
Christian had previously suggested that we use both the front and back of our cards to take advantage of the extra space. I stared at the blank rectangle before me. I’d already put most of the pertinent information on the front, so what could go on the back? Having recently designed a website for myself, I put the URL on the back in loopy cursive script. Above it, in bold, I wrote "Devil Takes the Elevator," the title of my novella-in-progress. Sure, it wasn’t done yet, but the phrase was funny, and would pique people’s interest. In the middle, I added a small black-and-white image of the Golden Gate Bridge. I looked at the front and the back. Not too bad: a little color on the front, neat-looking image on the back.
The website gave options for various types of cardstock and I selected a matte finish. Christian had advised us that overly glossy cardstock was difficult to write on with a ballpoint pen, and it’s a good idea to be able to write additional information on your card for the person you are handing it to.
In class the next weekend, everyone brought in samples of their cards. Some people designed their cards without the help of a website, which I found impressive. Another classmate had an enviably catchy slogan: Mortician by day, Writer by night.
I taped my business card to the wall alongside those of my classmates, and I felt pretty confident about my design. What could I possibly change to make this card better? Apparently, many things. Christian suggested I enlarge the image of the Golden Gate Bridge to cover more of the back of my card. I looked at the image again, and I had to concur that it was pretty dinky. Christian also pointed out that featuring the title of my novella-in-progress, "Devil Takes the Elevator," might confuse people. A valid point; it’s probably unwise to promote something you haven’t finished writing yet.
As is often the case before I show my work to other people, I was certain I was done. But people always notice things I cannot see myself. As Christian mentioned in class, it’s important to have a business card you can feel good about giving to people, so it’s worth spending the time to get it right. While my first try was a decent start, I think I can do better. I’m going to reformat my card using the suggestions I received, until I have a solid, visually appealing, interesting—but not confusing—business card. And next time I go to a literary party, I’ll be ready.