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Nuts and Bolts: Top 10 Card Submission Pitfalls

January 8, 2014

Straight from GCU’s hard working Review Team (and yours truly)  comes their Top 10 Card Submission Pitfalls. If you find yourself consistently getting cards Declined or Returned for Edits, you may be committing one or more of the sins on this list.

These are the most common mistakes made by artists, and it’s simple errors like these that result in long wait times for card reviews. Before you submit, check, double check, and re-check your designs. And if self-criticism isn’t your thing, maybe you should try submitting a design to the Critique Clinic right here on this blog every Friday, Saturday and Sunday to get another pair of eyes on your card.

1. Overused Filter/Effects
“Adding effects doesn’t save a poor or less than ideal photo.” It’s like trying to cover up a train wreck of a cake with gobs of sparkly frosting. The cake may glitter, but it’s still a train wreck. Professional photographers take literally hundreds of photos to get just one shot that’s good enough to publish.
What To Do: If your photo doesn’t make the grade, quit trying to force the issue. Some problems can’t be fixed, not even with a bigger hammer. Move on to a better photo.
For more on the topic, examples  & some tips:
 Image Quality: Excessive Effects

2. Distracting Background Elements
“Check your mulch to flower ratio, please! (More flowers, less mulch).” That’s just an example. If the background of your photograph has distracting elements in it that draw the eye away from the main subject – like a mountain of mulch towering over that little pot of bright geraniums in the foreground – then don’t use that photo unless it’s easy for you to remove the distraction in your chosen graphics editor without employing excessive effects (see #1).
What To Do: The photo’s subject may be delightful, but distractions mean the photo may be better off as a cherished keepsake in your album than a card submission.
For more on the topic, examples  & some tips:
Composition: Professionalism

3. Haphazardly Placed Text
“Should be natural and add value to the design, not hide undesirables.” This applies to text placement on a card, which is an important part of overall composition. Don’t bother trying to use lines of text to hide problems with  a photo or try to force the text to awkwardly mesh with an illustration. This does not work.
What To Do: In the case of a photo, if you can’t fix the problem with the photo itself, choose another photo. Always make sure your composition looks good and is balanced overall.
For more on the topic, examples & some tips:
Typography: Text Placement

4. Illegible Text
“Cover text over a busy area.” Remember your card will be seen by a shopper who has no idea what you had in your head when you created the design. So they need to SEE the text in order to read it. If your background’s so busy the text isn’t immediately legible to a casual glance, you’re doing it wrong. Good enough isn’t good enough. Clarity, clarity, clarity! Please choose a font that’s relevant to the design. A formal script font isn’t suitable for a child’s birthday card.
What to Do: Does your composition support a solid ribbon or banner (or frame) that can be positioned on the background to provide a good place for text? Or do you just need a different font?
For more on the topic, examples & some tips:
Typography: Legibility
Typography: Font Choices

5. Crooked Horizon Line
“Oh my, the ocean is falling!” Save your more experimental photographs for other projects and quit wasting your breath arguing. GCU accepts only photos with straight horizon lines and that’s the way it is.
What To Do: If you can’t fix it,  don’t use it. Choose another photo, this time with a straight horizon.
For more information, examples & some tips:
Composition: Perspective

6. Margin Allowance
“Important elements in jeopardy of getting cropped off.” There’s really no excuse for this one. GCU provides a template you can use or you can simply design with a 1/4″ allowance on all sides for the cut-off. Or use the Print Margin Preview during the card creation process.
What To Do: Download the template. When you’re logged in, go to Create a Card. Under the big orange Upload Images button, you’ll see Image Requirements and a link – Template: Click to Download. Alternatively, create your own template with a 1/4″ allowance at the top, bottom, and both sides.
For more information:
GCU Bleed Area Requirements

7. Typos & Misspellings
“Common errors happen all the time.” Take your time when proofreading ALL your text. Check once, twice, and a third time. Get someone else to check for mistakes, too – they might catch something you didn’t. Familiarize yourself with English spelling rules and for heaven’s sake, pay attention to the difference between your and you’re! The GCU Wiki also provides the correct names of certain holidays – if you aren’t sure if it’s Nurses’ Day or Nurse’s Day, look it up on the site before you submit.
What To Do: One trick is to type your text into a word processing program and use spell-check. Another is to proofread your text backward (surprisingly, this works well to catch errors). Or get another opinion.
For more information:
240 Common Spelling Mistakes in English
GCU Wiki: Spelling and Grammar

8. Excessive and Incorrect Punctuation
“Don’t get carried away!!!!!!!!!!” Regardless of how often you communicate on the Internet through e-mail and chats, or how much you text with your friends, using fourteen exclamation points to indicate excitement on a card is BAD. One exclamation point, please. Same thing goes for question marks – more is not better. In English, just one. And format your ellipses (those three dots – … – that indicate a pause – that’s three periods, not four, not five, not an even dozen) properly.
What To Do:  Learn the rules of the apostrophe,  ellipses, and don’t confuse text talk with actual writing. It’s a greeting card, but it still need to be correct.
For more information:
Tips & Tricks: Ellipses

9. Missing Notes & Image Source
“Give credit where credit is due, especially if it’s not you!” We’ve talked about this many times. Use the Reviewer’s notes to include image sources (URL’s to TOU, etc.). Even if the photo/graphics are your creation, add a note to that effect in the Notes to Reviewers field. This is a MUST – no one is exempt.
What To Do: Keep a record of where you obtained all 3rd party graphics. In this record, include a link to the Terms of Use which gives the okay for CU4CU (that’s Commercial Use for Commercial Use). Update your records as necessary.
For more information:
Note to Reviewer
Dash of Inspiration: TOU – Terms of Use
Tips & Tricks: Card Designer Checklist

10. Incorrect Categories
“A heart doesn’t make it a Valentine’s Day card.” Again, a subject that has been addressed many times. GCU takes categories literally, meaning if this is a Mother’s Day card, it needs to SAY something about Mother’s Day on the front or inside verse. A picture of a flower in a vase isn’t enough. You must categorize a card by what it actually IS, not what you think it should be.
For more information:
Nuts & Bolts: Categories
Dash of Inspiration: Choosing Categories

11. Trademark Infringement
“If it’s not yours, get permission or don’t use it.” Understand this: stuff you find on the Internet belongs to whoever created it. That’s the law. So don’t assume it’s free for you to use on a commercial project like selling greeting cards UNLESS the Terms of Use allow you to do so. Also, you will need a model release if that photo has a clearly recognizable person’s face in it and that face is not yours.
What To Do: Don’t steal. Don’t plagiarize (that’s stealing someone else’s unique verse).
For more information, examples & tips:
Marketability: Intellectual Property

In General
The Review Team would like to remind all artists that Doreen’s extremely useful and handy Card Submission 101 is having its first anniversary this month – hooray! You can also find the official GCU Card Submissions Guideline and give it a thorough study. And if you work hard to eliminate the errors in your cards, you can become a Star Submitter and get expedited review times!

We hope you’ve found this list enlightening and helpful.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2014 2:02 pm

    “having it’s first anniversary this month”

    I know you mean, “having its first anniversary this month” but I thought you would like to correct it. Especially considering the topic.

  2. January 8, 2014 2:35 pm

    What to do about 7-8? I just can’t no matter how I try, I spell check, double spell check, and punctuation is a creature I can’t understand 😦 apart from that pretty ok ish, great if you are not dyslexic (that took me 4 goes :P) but punctuation is … what? I can see it’s and its but for me unless the spell check went hey there … not its but it’s! then I would be totally oblivious, I get punished enough anyway for my stupidity 😛 always have so I am sort of used to it!
    But I find it distressing as heck I used to cry non stop, now I have to shake it off and take the hits or I would never do a thing.

    • January 9, 2014 12:17 am

      Moonie, anytime you need a check on verse, many of us would willingly give you a second set of eyes on the forum. There is nothing to be ashamed of, we all know and love someone who is dyslexic. I’ll help you whenever you need my eyes, they’re yours 🙂

  3. January 8, 2014 2:42 pm

    @Tanya – English is a contradictory and difficult language, but all is not lost. I’ll be posting an article next week giving much help on issues like troublesome apostrophes and correct grammar/punctuation. In the meantime, if spell-check isn’t working out for you, you can always submit a card to the Critique Clinic (upload to your private gallery and give us a link – be sure the Private Gallery Module is ON). We’ll be glad to proofread for you.


  4. Cathy Gangwer permalink
    January 8, 2014 4:12 pm

    Great info!

  5. January 8, 2014 4:39 pm

    Thanks all for the valuable “Food For Thought” here. I have learned much from all of the information here on GCU, and we strive to perfect the cards that we offer. Thanks everyone for taking so much time out of your busy lives to post this treasure of information.

  6. January 8, 2014 7:31 pm

    This is a great concise summary of helpful tips. Thanks!

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