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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Killer Campaigns: Trading Cards

Day 3: Left Behind & Loving It

Trading cards leave me with a mixed reaction. On the one hand I trip over myself collecting beautiful pieces of art no matter how large or how small. And I have an absurd preoccupation with advertising collateral, so putting your characters on trading cards sounds right up my alley.

But what about the acid test? Will it compel a passerby to look at your book or your website? Does it MOTIVATE a complete stranger to buy?

Probably not. But what it can do is rouse fangirl or fanboy interest in a series. If you're running with a series, trading cards may be the perfect venue to not only reward loyal fans but to create a buzz.

My first thought is that trading cards would be perfect for the YA crowd. Kids and kids at heart love to collect this stuff. But let's not forget the geeks among us, who adore all things unique and unusual. And of course, the true fan, who will collect anything from their favorite authors.

When you think of trading cards, think about the original baseball card. Typically, it has the image on one side and stats on the other.

And this is where all the fun begins. This is where you can tell fans how tall the hero is, his hair color, his hobbies, where he lives, and how many demons he's killed so far--which gives you the option of updating the cards from book to book. You can also include facts you may not have been able to put into the book.

The Art

The most important part of the trading card will be the art. But it doesn't have to be a Frank Frazetta painting to make your card a hot collectible.

When interviewing an artist, ask to see his portfolio or check out his website. You can also search for freelance artists on the web. Search under: freelance artist jobs and you'll find several job banks such as Artisan Talent. Once you contract him and settle on a price, give him the best description you can so he can create your character's portrait.

I caution you that hiring an artist can be expensive. One of my friends used to work through a website that specializes in YA art. The last time I checked, prices began at $150 for one image and went as high as $400 per image. You might be able to find cheaper artists but often times you get what you pay for, so always make sure your contract with the artist is clear and you really like HIS style.

Most artists will offer a few thumbnails, small sketches of what the piece might look like. Here is your chance to discuss poses, backgrounds, and facial features. If you like this artist's portfolio, trust him to do something wonderful with the ideas you've given him.

And speaking as an artist, I advise you not to micro manage. Most artists (and this will be in your contract) will allow you only so many changes. After that it starts to cost you.

Something less expensive

You can also use one of the many stock photo databases that usually charge a small fee. If you're handy with Photoshop, you can do a lot with a base image.

Bear in mind, that these images are there for anyone to use, so if you don't modify yours significantly, you're bound to see its twin somewhere else along your journey.

A few sites to try for stock photos:

Free Digital Photos
Free Photos
Dreams Time
Morgue File
And what if you have a zero dollar budget for trading cards?

Not to worry.

With a little Googling I found the two sites below. One creates South Park-like characters, (not to my taste) and the other creates traditional looking characters. I really had fun with that one.

South Park Studio

Hero Machine (I played around with this one and it works well, except for the fact it doesn't allow you to save it as a jpg. I had to do a screen capture and bring it into Photoshop. Still, it might serve well as a base of ideas.)

Obviously, if you want your characters to look like the ones on your cover or want a more painterly style, you'll have to hire an artist. One note: Careful with copyright issues. If you don't own the rights to the image on your book cover, your artist will have to create something different, yet similar in style.

Using a good character art program might be a cheap and easy way to bring your characters to life without breaking the promotion budget.

Tips for creating your trading card:

• trading cards are typically 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches
• Use full color
• Opt for a fancy border which you can find in any clipart book.
• Label the card with your character's name on the front and the series or book name.
• On the back, list pertinent information and trivia about the character and where he fits in the book.
• Don't forget to include the villains
• Have fun with your images. Try different poses, head shots, shadowed faces, and any iconography that identifies the character.

Trading cards are still fairly uncommon in the promotion arena, so it has a certain level of novelty to it. They can be printed on cardstock or placed on your website so fans can print them out themselves. You can also turn them into art files (jpgs or tifs) and put them on your web site so fans can download them as desktop wallpaper.

You can get a lot of mileage out of trading cards. I hope you get the chance to try them.
For more articles in the Killer Campaign series, go here.

Remember that I will choose one winner from this week's comments for a print copy of Touch Of Fire.
Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

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Jannette Johnson said...

I kind of like the idea. Word Weavers had a post onit several months ago, but they suggested the authors be on the card, instead of the book.

Maria Zannini said...

Hi Jannette!

LOL! I would hate to see my mug on a trading card. I would much rather see my characters come to life.

Robin Connelly said...

I like Hero for certain characters. Other characters not so much. I just wish I could save the image for later!

Sherri said...

Love trading cards -- been toying with them in my scrapbooking for a couple years now -- and I think they translate well for promoting books.

Maria Zannini said...

Hi Robin!

I agree. There must be other character creator sites out there. I will have to investigate further to see what I can find.

It's too good an opportunity to pass up.

Thanks for stopping by!

Maria Zannini said...

Sherri, I would love to see your ideas some day. I hope you'll post them when you're ready.