Business Cards and Job Titles

By John Gilstrap

After twenty years of using the same business card design, I decided a couple of weeks ago that it was time for a change. There wasn’t anything wrong with the old card, exactly, but it looked old and un-cool. The front featured a stock picture of a fountain pen and showed my name with the title of “author.” Then it was junked up with the URLs for my website, Facebook page, YouTube channel, and my Twitter handle (JohnGilstrap201). The back of the card listed the names of my most recent books. It’s what I would call a busy image.

What’s the point of having a card in the first place?

I’ve done a lot of soul searching on the question of whether a business card is even necessary in this day of emails and file transfers. Clearly, my answer is yes, and for one very good reason: I leave my business card everywhere. In restaurants, I leave my card in the payment folio. When I drop off my dry cleaning, I leave a card. When people work on the house, I give the craftsman a card.

More importantly, whenever I meet someone, I ask for their business card, for which I exchange my own. Often as not, the exchange will trigger a question that goes something like, “You’re an author? What kind of books do you write?” Then, after the 10-second elevator this-is-me speech, the conversation generally ends with, “I’ll have to look up your books.” I’m confident that only a small percentage ever do actually look me up, but at least it’s a start.

Those among us who say that marketing is the part they hate most about the book biz do a real disservice to themselves by not taking advantage of such a simple ice breaker.

Who am I today?

Back when I had a Big Boy Job with a trade association, my position was a prominent one through which I met hundreds of people every year. My corporate business card listed my title as “director of safety” and offered up my various phone numbers. I tried to keep the two parts of my professional world separate. I would never, for example, present my author card to a member of the association when I was on association business.

But worlds are small. Word inevitably leaked that I was also an author, and when asked (and never before), I would present my author card and encourage the requester to go to my website for more information.

After hours, however, I was an author. Period.

What makes for a good business card?

I can answer this one from only my point of view, which comes from a place of serious thought and introspection. In no particular order:

  1. The business card needs to be attractive. I’m not talking extensive design costs here, but rather a sense of proportion and symmetry.
  2. It needs to be read and understood in the course of a one-second glance. If you want to trigger that elevator speech, people need to see everything they need to know right away.
  3. Contact information. I jealously guard my phone number, so I know I don’t want that on the card, but I certainly want my email address and website information to be easily found.
  4. Traditional shape. When I accept someone else’s business card, I slip it into a special place in my wallet that is reserved specifically for that purpose. If the card is too large or too small, it won’t fit. I like to think that I’m not the only one who’s a touch on the OCD spectrum (or CDO–alphabetical as it should be).

This is what I came up with:

I wanted to keep thing relatively simple–minimalist, really–so I went to and scrolled through their business card templates till I found one that I thought came close to the design I wanted. I thought the glossy black kinda popped. Everything I wanted the recipient to know was right there on the front.

I confess that I struggled with the job title. “bestselling thriller author” sounds clunky to me, but my old title of “author” felt too generic. This is a marketing piece, after all, so I oughta be marketing, right?

But what about all the other cool stuff? The social media platforms and my website? I solved that with QR codes on the reverse side of the card. Rather than listing all of the books I’ve written, why not let them use their cameras to zap themselves right to my website, where they’ll find everything from the various titles to how to hire me as a speaker. I don’t understand how any of the technology works, but I figure I might as well take of advantage of it.

It’s your turn, TKZ family. What do you think about business cards in this age of electronic media? Did I miss anything in what considerations go into the design of an effective business card?

One last thing . . .

Remember, I told y’all that I’ve got a spot open for you and your book if you want to want to appear on morning radio in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Our own Debbie Burke too me up on the offer and I think she had a good time. Last week, my buddy Jeffery Deaver stopped by for at thirty-minute chat about his books and his upcoming television series. Let me know if you’re interested!

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About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Lethal Game, Blue Fire, Stealth Attack, Crimson Phoenix, Hellfire, Total Mayhem, Scorpion Strike, Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

16 thoughts on “Business Cards and Job Titles

  1. I have to re-do mine, too, now that I have the second book in the trilogy available. I’ve used Vistaprint for other things, but printed my own cards on my color laser printer, in small batches, because I wasn’t ready for more big decisions at the time.

    I like yours – but I do prefer to have an image of my books, and it’s important that you can at least read the title on those images at thumbnail size, and that my name is clear on the card.

    Printing on both sides needs to be done professionally, and I’m not sure my particular audience does QR codes, but maybe I should. And I’ve been too scared to put universal links on anything, and I need to get over that.

    Enjoy handing out your newly minted cards. Shiny!

    • Alicia,

      I went round and round considering the imagery to put on the business card, and ultimately decided that my books are not my brand. I am the brand as the guy who wrote them. I figured if I give people a means to easily research the books, I’ll have achieved my goal.

      It’s all a big crap shoot.

      • This trilogy of a half-million words MAY be my only legacy – especially considering my age and that it took 23 years to get the first two books written. They go on the card.

        But your decision makes a lot of sense for much more prolific authors – and being the brand.

        Yes about the crapshoot thing – the medical researchers might still give me my life back as they figure out long covid. Maybe.

  2. My ‘job title’ used to be Banker By Day, Blogger By Night. Now that I’m retired and live and travel full time in my RV, I changed it to Blogger By Day, Boondocker By Night. It gets a lot of questions – what’s a boondocker? Because I visit so many places, I find it handy to carry business cards. When people hear I’m an author (my husband brings it up every time we talked to someone), I can whip out my card. I find that it also makes a handy bookmark. When I sell a book to someone IRL, I stick a business card in the pages. Photo on the front, 2 most recent books on the back, and how to contact me thru email and website.

    • I don’t understand the purpose of putting my picture on a business card. If I were a real estate agent, maybe it would put people at ease in doing business with me, but otherwise, my mug would just take up valuable real estate on a very small piece of paper.

  3. I have my logo on the front of mine, my name, and website and email on the front, and QR codes to my website and Facebook author page on the back. The heart with a dagger generates some discussion, although my card doesn’t say “author” on it. I don’t think I’ll be changing the design until I run out of the ones I have, and given how rare personal contact is these days, I don’t think it’ll be anytime soon. I took some on my cruise, but given the nature of the passengers, didn’t hand out very many. English wasn’t a first language for most of them. (I did add two of my books to the ships library, though)

  4. Love your new cards, John. Classy and sleek design. Thanks for the reminder to use QR codes. I’ve been meaning to update mine.

    I would definitely be interested in appearing on your show!

  5. Morning, John. Being on your radio show was a terrific experience! Thank you again for the opportunity! Say howdy to Rob and the Admiral for me.

    My business card has the covers of six books on one side. Can’t fit any more than that. The other side is name, website, Twitter, email. I haven’t used QRU codes but that sounds like an excellent idea for when I order another batch.

    B/c I like to support local businesses, I order from a printer in town. More expensive than online but it’s the right thing to do. He also does posters for in-person appearances.

    Like Jane, I stick a card in every book as a bookmark.

    Great point about odd-size cards–I dislike ’em and am apt to toss them b/c they don’t fit in regular slots.

  6. Your new cards look terrific, John. The black front is an excellent choice. I hadn’t thought of picking up new business cards, but now that I’m writing cozy mystery, it’s a good idea. I like you utilize your cards, too.

    I’d be very interested in appearing on your show.

  7. Good morning, John.

    I like your business cards. Simplicity is always a plus for me.

    I re-ordered cards from Vistaprint last year when my inventory was low. I left the front the same (small photo of me, name, website, email address.) The bottom of the card has a quote from Francis Bacon: “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”

    I added QR codes to the back for my website and Amazon author page. (I believe it was Terry Odell who mentioned using QR codes that prompted me to do that.)

    I also don’t like business cards that aren’t standard sizes. If they don’t fit in my business card book, they go in that other file.

  8. Solid card and solid advice.
    A business card is a time for be traditional, I mean readable. You want to be friendly to old eyes. If you want to stand out, go with a vertical instead of horizontal layout.
    With your QR code (there are free QR generators) you might want to look at or something similar. All of your socials go on the carrd. The QR points to the carrd. You change something online, you change the carrd, the business cards stay up to date.

    This is a carrd I made for my day job. You are looking at less than an hour of work.

  9. I have two cards, one with my phone number listed, the other with my website address. The latter is what I hand out to potential readers at events and when I happen to meet someone and the talk turns to what I do. The card with the phone number goes only to personal friends or close business associates. It’s too bad, really, because I think that card has the niftier design, so I might make a change once my stash of author cards runs dry. As to leaving cards at places like coffee shops, I have postcards for each of my books, with the cover on one side and a short blurb about the book on the other, along with a QR code that takes the reader right to the Amazon site where they can get the ebook. And yes, John, I’d love to be on your radio show!

  10. I have a card I created on Vistaprint that has my phone number and a picture of a guitar and amplifier, I keep a few in my wallet and when I’m anywhere where there’s a bulletin board folks put cards up I always stick one on it along with the ones for sewer repair and real estate agants. Doesn’t matter where I am, and it yielded an eight hundred dollar job not too long ago.

    For the price it’s great advertising. By far the best I’ve seen.

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