Sometimes it’s hard to find just the right words, especially for the people who mean the most to you. Amy Trowbridge-Yates (BA 2001) can help. She spends every day crafting just the right phrases so you can share your most personal sentiments or bring a smile to someone who needs one.
Trowbridge-Yates is a senior writer in the Creative Writing Department at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. Every day, thousands of people across the country see her work on everything from greeting cards to children’s books to ornaments and plush toys.
Trowbridge-Yates clearly loves her work, but it can be challenging. First there are the limitations of the medium.
“Typically the word count and space allowed are dictated by the cost,” Trowbridge-Yates said. “If you pay $6 for a card – it’s likely going to your wife or your mother – you want it to have a deeper, more personal message. Those longer, more heartfelt pieces are easier to write. It’s the condensed, smaller messages (that still pack a punch) that are more difficult. That’s especially true because Hallmark’s been around for 103 years. What has not been said? To come up with something fresh, heartfelt, and original is incredibly difficult.”
I’m always writing little notes to myself, or getting out of bed at night to jot down a line. I come up with quite a bit while driving – I’ve got my office voicemail on speed dial, so I’ll record an entire card or two over the phone. Some of my best-selling cards were written while sitting in traffic downtown.
Trowbridge-Yates said the process for writing a message for a greeting card begins with very specific instructions.
“When I’m given a project from the editor, I’m often given pretty detailed scenarios,” she said. “In (one recent case – a Mother’s Day project) I really got to stretch my skills. I wrote for millennial senders to single mothers. I did a few cards for senders who weren’t close to their mothers, either geographically or emotionally. I also wrote for birth mothers, adoptive mothers and ‘like a mother.’ I love that Hallmark is acknowledging nuances and diversities in today’s relationships and families. It allows us, as writers, to explore real, true-to-life messages that speak to what modern relationships are really like.”
Assuming the voice of someone from a different generation or different circumstances with authenticity is a big challenge.
“Clearly I can write a card that I would send in my own life pretty easily, but to write for a relationship or situation I’ve never been in – like grandmother to grandson, sympathy for the loss of child, or a baby boomer husband to wife – those can be difficult pieces to create. Essentially, it’s stepping into someone else’s shoes, (or heart),” she said.
For Trowbridge-Yates, that means doing lots of research.
“I only know the limitations of my own life and about my own relationships,” she said. “I need to speak for millions of consumers, and make it as authentic as possible, so a big part of my job is simply observing people – in an un-creepy way,” she said with a smile.
She said Hallmark is very supportive of its creative staff and encourages them to find inspiration in unexpected places, and card ideas come any time, anywhere.
“I’m always writing little notes to myself, or getting out of bed at night to jot down a line. I come up with quite a bit while driving. Some of my best-selling cards were written while sitting in traffic downtown,” Trowbridge-Yates said.
The most difficult projects, she said, are humor.
“It’s easy to make my friends and husband laugh, because we’ve got the same off-the-wall sense of humor,” she said. “To write a joke that’s not only a setup on the cover with a punch line on the inside, but that’s also going to make millions of people laugh, now that’s a challenge.”
Ironically, those have been some of her greatest successes.
“Some of my top selling cards were humor cards intended for mom-to-mom sending that truly happened to me. I definitely get ideas from my own crazy life and kids,” Trowbridge-Yates said.
Trowbridge-Yates also gives credit to her husband, Kevin (BBA 2001, MBA 2005) for her success in writing pieces with romantic messages.
“My relationship with my husband is a great source of inspiration,” she said. “Thankfully I got a good one, so I’ve got a knack for the love cards.”
Trowbridge-Yates said that she writes so many messages and does them so far out ahead of production that it can be easy to forget which ones are hers.
“Last year, I went to the card shop looking for a Valentine for my husband. I bought the perfect one and was thinking ‘this sounds just like us,’” Trowbridge-Yates said.
Later, she looked the card up in the system and discovered she had written it three years prior.
“So I told him, ‘the you in the card, that’s really you!’” she said.
Trowbridge-Yates has been at Hallmark for nine years, but still remembers the feeling she had when she first saw her work on store shelves.
“It was awesome,” she said. “It still is. In a lot of jobs, you never see your finished product. In my case, I get to spend my days sending something out into the world that people are going to use to emotionally connect, and that’s a really great feeling.”