Question: Is it ok to send rough sketches or designs to publishers instead of finished illustrations?
Answer: Yes! Art directors don’t mind receiving roughed out ideas, be it sketches or digital mockups. Some art directors even prefer this, as if your design is picked up, they can have you illustrate the final artwork to their greeting card specifications and/or even make any minor adjustments to the design before you start on the finals. Sending roughs* is also good for you as the illustrator, in that you avoid working on spec, spending time illustrating artwork with only a chance it will be purchased. To protect your ideas when submitting to various companies, just be sure to include a © Your Name on your designs.
*When I say “roughs,” I don’t mean scribbled on the back of a dirty napkin… try to keep them neat, descriptive, easy to make out the idea you’re trying to portray.
I’ve posted more tips on sending samples to greeting card publishers here.