Ask Clay

Clay Stafford, founder Killer Nashville, publisher of Killer Nashville Magazine, and CEO of American Blackguard Inc., is regularly asked a range questions from writing techniques to publishing to marketing. And, they’re always good questions, he says. But often he feels he is unable to fully answer due to time constraints. Writing as a business is important stuff and demands reflection. In our “Ask Clay” column, he will share more than 30 years of experience in what he knows about the writing and entertainment businesses.

You can connect with Clay through, Twitter, or Facebook.

Author Business Cards

Question: Last month in your Ask Clay Column, you said there were items that should be included in an author’s business card. Could you be more specific?


First of all, let me state the obvious as I said in last month’s column: authors are – for the most part – poor marketers.

One of the most basic things an author needs is a business card. Postcards and bookmarks are great things to lay out on a table at a writers’ conference, but they are not for introductions. An author needs something that the other person can slip into his/her pocket and reference later, not lay down on a table and forget.

Author business cards don’t have to be fancy. They just need to be well-thought-out. In general, they need to have the logical information the receiver would need to make an honest opinion on whether to reach out to the author or to purchase the author’s book.

business-cardAs an author – unique as you are – you need to put some thought into your cards. You are the only person in your writing company (unless you are writing with someone else), but for the most part, even if you have staff, it is just you in the limelight. You are the brand. Luckily, you do not have to match any preconceived company logo or format as you might if you had a day job with another company with other employees and a distant board of directors. It’s just you and for your card, more specifically, it needs to express who you are. And I shouldn’t have to mention, don’t use your day job card as your writer business card. It tells the receiver that you have a day job, not that you are a professional author. If the latter is your goal, present yourself as such from the start.

Like your website, your postcards, your bookmarks, and any other promotional items you use, your business card first and foremost needs to look professional in terms of content, and it is worth the extra time and money to get it printed professionally. In the minds of those receiving your card, you are only as professional as the impression they have of you later when – alone and thinking – they reflect back on you by looking at your card. You want it to set you apart from everyone else.

As a writer, it is your job to get things right. Think about it. Who wants to work with a sloppy writer? If your card is sloppy, it says you are, too. Along the same lines, who wants to work with one overly verbose? Information-less? Disjointed? Misspelled? Illogical? Cheap? Smeared? Flimsy? You get the point.

I have heard authors say that because they have books, they do not need business cards. Wrong. A business card is a set professional convention and, unless you are planning on giving away books with all the contact info (email, phone, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), it is best to have a card. And you need a card, say, for a conference like Killer Nashville where the agents, editors, and publishers attending may see over 500+ people over the course of the weekend. You want to make it easy on those who might help your career. How do you do that? A card well designed. Bring cards with you everywhere you go, especially to conferences and book signings.

So what does a writer need to put on his/her card? Here are some elements for your checklist:

Color. The days of simple black-and-white are gone. With the other elements below, you’ll also see why color is so important.

Standard Size. Sure it is nice to stand out. Oddly square, round, extra large, extra small. But will it fit nicely in my wallet like a credit card so I won’t lose it? If you want to be innovative, save it for your writing and your marketing campaigns. In terms of the size and shape of your card, make it convenient to keep it, to pocket it, and to store it in a business card folder when the recipient gets home.

Name. Pretty obvious. And use your writer name if you use a pseudonym.

“Author”. Yep. Silly as it sounds, unless you are a recognizable name, it is always good to state what you are. Under your name, put Author. Or if you are a hyphenate, include: Author / Editor; Author / Filmmaker; Author / Screenwriter; Author / Journalist. And if you tend to write articles rather than books, or you are a minimalist, you might want to just be really simple: Writer.

Contact Info. Authors tend to leave out the right kind of info and put in the wrong kind. Here’s a checklist:



Website URL. Authors need websites. If you don’t have a website, fix that before you fix your card. When you write it out, you also don’t need to include all the hyperlink info general understood by default browsers anyway. Just include the URL in as simple and concise terms as you can: And look at the lettering: is much easier to read than Make it easy for the person to remember your name.

Email address. Your personal email? No. You don’t know what kind of crazy is going to eventually get this card if someone sets it down. So what do you need? That generic and consistent one on your website that usually reads contact@ or, but not your personal Gmail account you use with close friends and family.



Mailing Address. You are not IBM. You don’t want people stopping by. And the more famous you are, the more likely you are not going to want someone to just show up at your doorstep. If you do want to get together with someone you’ve just met, I would suggest you meet at a coffee shop anyway, not your house.

Phone. Optional. If you want. But these days, who calls? Someone can always email your generic and public account and – if you want to get together – you can give the person the phone number. Remember, you don’t know who is going to get this card.

Social Security Number. I’m serious. I’ve seen it more than you think.

Picture. Most people can’t remember names, but they are visual. If someone meets 500+ individuals over the course of the weekend, they need to be able to see your face to re-spark that conversation in their heads. And it needs to be a picture of how you really look regardless of how ugly or fat you think you are. How you look is how you look. Using an airbrushed shot or one of you from 20 years ago is nice for your Glamour interview, but it will work against you if someone is trying to remember who you are by studying your face. I’ve taken cards, gotten home, looked at the picture, and can’t remember ever seeing this person before. I later find out why. The picture on their card and promotional material looks nothing like who they are. Does the picture have to be the usual square or rectangle shot with borders? No. It can be a picture of you, maybe cut out in Photoshop, imposed over the halftone background. But it needs to be prominent. Can it just be your book cover? No, but we’ll get to that in a moment. With a business card (and your career), you are not selling your latest book; you are selling YOU, which includes your latest book, as well as all your backlist and books that appear in the future. The brand is YOU, not the individual book. Use your picture.

Background. You can always include a tag line such as “mystery author”, “thriller author”, “suspense author”, etc., but wouldn’t it be better to make the person feel that rather than be told? That’s where the background of your color cards come in. When someone looks at the card they can immediately see elements of mystery, horror, or thriller if you have chosen your background – maybe in halftones – so clearly that the feeling and quick-first-impression image portrayed immediately sets the feel, creating the market for your demographics. By not using a tag, you are also saving surface space for the information that really matters.

bookcoverCover of Your Latest Book. You want a halftone background picture to set the mood. You want the picture of you to help the receiver remember who you are, and you want it to look realistic. But what are you really wanting? In addition to remembering you, you want them to buy a copy of your latest book. Put the cover on there (once again visual) and make sure the title is easily seen. It’s an expense, but each time you release a new book, update your cards. In terms of sales, presentation, and professionalism, it is worth it. Do you need to put ISBN info or publisher’s name? No. Takes up too much space. Just put the cover. If they want your book they will find it easily at the physical bookstore or online with the title of the book (from the picture of the cover) and your name alone. What if you don’t have a book published yet? Don’t include anything.

Catchphrase, blurb, or quote. If you’ve got it, it is always nice to flaunt it. “Mesmerizing” – New York Times will go a long way in saying everything you need to say without you saying it. If the NYT hasn’t reviewed your book, but a fellow author has, ask for a blurb and include that along with their solid title: “A irresistible read.” – Michael Connelly, New York Times Bestselling Author. And if you don’t know any famous authors (or even semi-famous ones), create your own tag: Mesmerizing. A thriller for the dead. This phrase should be what sets you apart from all the other people someone might meet.

And that’s it. That’s all you need.

Social Media Sites. No. Too many. The person receiving your card can get all that from your website. Don’t clutter the card.

The main thing is to look at – and then evaluate – your presentation and information on your card through a stranger’s eyes. Being a writer is a little different than being a CEO. Have fun with your card. Make it as much emotional as informational. Share the nuances of your personality through the visual feel of the card itself. Sell the image (YOU), the brand (YOU), the uniqueness of the product (YOU).

What about the back? Leave it blank and white. Why? That’s where you will personally write your cell phone number, your hotel room number, or maybe even your agent’s name and contact info. And make sure the texture of the card allows you to easily write with a pen; the back surface may be different than the front; you want a back surface that won’t smear regardless of the writing utensil. And – being the busy author you are – you don’t want to waste that extra 15 seconds shaking the card to dry it. 

You need to be signing that next book.

Clay Stafford CreditZachSimmsHaving worked in film, television, radio, and publishing as both a buyer and a seller, Clay Stafford is happy to take your questions regarding the publishing / entertainment industry.

Clay Stafford has had an eclectic career.  Not only did he found Killer Nashville in 2006 and Killer Nashville Magazine in 2015, but he has also been an industry executive (PBS, Universal Studios, others), author (over 1.5 million copies of his books in print), a filmmaker (work in 14 languages), university professor (several universities including University of Miami and University of Tennessee), and a much-sought-after public speaker (U.S. Department of Defense, Miami International Press Club, more).

Send your questions here.