7 Tips for Becoming a Successful Stock Author

The draw for selling digital stock goods is immense. You make something, upload it to a site, and watch the money flow in again and again through repeat sales. What designer, photographer or developer could resist?

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that there’s no guarantee that your hard work will yield you a single cent. In fact, it could very likely be a phenomenal waste of time! Today we’re going to discuss some tricks of the trade that will help your foray into this market is a successful one.

Business Acumen Over Creative Talent

I think one of the biggest mistakes that people are prone to make when they begin considering selling stock items is to put far too much faith in their creative talents and abilities. The argument typically goes something like this: “there’s a ton of ugly stuff on that site, I could do much better!”

It’s time to face a hard reality, and I promise, you’re not going to like it. Your creative talent alone will get you nowhere on a popular site. These sites are so inundated with material that selling items becomes a game of standing out and getting noticed, and sheer creativity isn’t going to cut it alone.

I Know, You Do Beautiful Work, But Who Cares?

As an example, let’s say that you take the best flower photos the world has ever seen. These photos are so beautiful that grandmothers weep when they see them. Surely, as the world’s premiere flower photographer, your photos will outsell any current flower photos by leaps and bounds. As a result, you head over to iStock and upload your photos for review… rejected!

Wait, what!? Your photos are the best! No one has ever produced such fine work. How could you be rejected? It turns out, you didn’t do your homework. iStock is so overloaded with photos of flowers that they won’t even look at your work. Who cares if your photos are the best? They have more content in this area than they need and nothing you can do is going to change that.


Don’t Get Mad, Get Smart

This is frustrating, I know. We’d all love to believe that the most creative people sell the most stock art, but in truth, I sincerely believe it’s most often the people with the best business strategy. They approach the market of digital stock goods like a shrewd restauranteur looking to open a new eatery in the heart of a highly competitive district. Research, planning, marketing, these are the practices that you need to familiarize yourself with.

Following this plan, you might find that there’s currently no market for your super creative idea and that your time will be better spent on a fairly uninspiring project in an area that’s in has high demand and low supply. Should you still strive to make your product better than anything else around? Absolutely. Just be wise about what you choose to pursue or you’ll waste your time.

Study the Review and Submission Process Well

If you’ve never sold stock before, you’re in for a real treat. The amount of red tape and hoops that you have to jump through to become an author varies from site to site, but it’s almost always a headache. Typically, to begin, you’ll find at least one hefty author guide that you’ll want to read through as thoroughly as possible. You can find the Envato Marketplace author guide here.


Once you’ve read through the author guide(s), the next step is often a quiz that you need to pass to ensure that you did indeed do your homework. Both iStock and the Envato Marketplaces have unique quizzes aimed at seeing if you understand their policies.

Don’t Just Study to Pass the Test

Beyond snagging up enough information to get yourself in the door, your research should be aimed at providing you with key insight that will help you be more successful. For instance, stock site author guides often tell you the types of files they are and aren’t looking for currently. They might also outline some best practices that the most popular authors follow.

Get Used to Rejection


The larger a stock site becomes, the more profit potential you have (though it’s also much more difficult to get your work noticed). Hand in hand with this though is the idea that, as a site becomes more popular, they can afford to become pickier and pickier about the submissions.

Understand this fact: your submissions will get rejected. It happens to all of us at one point or another. There are three possible reactions. First, you can waste your time with appeal emails, begging or demanding that they understand how amazing you really are, but more often than not this will get you no where. Another possible reaction is to get so discouraged that you give up. Again, remember that everyone goes through this and that a rejection or even ten rejections is no reason to give up!

Finally, you can choose to learn from each rejection and adjust your strategy until you understand the reviewers enough to get something by nearly every time. Obviously, this is the recommended way to go. Occasionally, it will mean giving up on something that you spent a lot of time creating. Remember that the people running the site do and should have the final say about what they choose to sell.

Carve Out a Niche

One of the absolute best pieces of advice that I can give you for reaching success quickly on a stock site is to carve out a nice little niche for yourself. These sites are highly competitive and it’s not going to be easy to come in out of nowhere and dethrone the already popular authors.

Try to think of something that you can, at least temporarily, own almost completely. Once you find that golden niche, completely flood it with content. Don’t upload an item or two, upload ten, twenty, fifty or more items. Make sure that when someone enters a search term that relates to your idea, they see your items all over the first ten pages of results.

For instance, let’s say that you notice that there’s only one or two WordPress templates for real estate agents on a given theme site. This presents a decent-sized market that’s not being served well. Make up as many real estate templates as you can bust out and upload them, thereby taking over (and perhaps even creating) that category in one fell swoop.


iStock user alexsl has over 560,000 sales from his portfolio full of simple 3D models.

Competition Will Come

The authors on these stock sites are vultures and the minute they see you making any sort of profit on an idea, they’ll swoop in and rip it off. I’m not being mean here, I just know from experience that this is how these sites work.

If you’ve uploaded a single item in your niche, it’s going to be easy for another author to see what you’ve done, steal it, make it even better and smile all the way to the bank as they cash the checks that came from your idea. If however, you’ve followed my previous advice and spent a lot of time and effort building up an entire portfolio of work along this one theme, then it’s going to be much more difficult for the copycats to top what you’ve done.

Quantity vs. Quality

If you want a first mover advantage in a market, go for quantity. Get as much as you can out there as quick as you can. In the long game though, this strategy isn’t going to work. As competitors flood in, your files need to be clearly better than the competition or else you’ll lose all those early bird benefits.

Jump Onto Trends

What if you can’t think of any unique niche to pursue? It seems like all the good ideas are already taken! Fortunately for you, things are always changing. Trends in design, photography and development come and go, if you’re smart and fast, you can capitalize on it.


This is especially true of the web development world, where things have been rapidly advancing evolving since day one. As an example, take the recent shift towards responsive web design. ThemeForest authors saw this shift and responded quickly by dishing out responsive templates, some of which now have upwards of 4,500-5,000 sales!

Keep a keen eye out for new and emerging trends, then do your best to be among the first to jump on them. The result could be a huge boost in sales.

Keep Your Ratings High

As a stock author, your reputation is in the hands of your customers. If most of your customers are satisfied with your work, your ratings should reflect that. If everyone is disappointed, this will also be reflected. As a potential buyer, if I have to choose between two different authors or files, I’m always going to choose the one with the highest rating. A high rating is a comforting sign. If others love your work, it stands to reason that I will too!

Support is a Big Deal

Keeping your ratings high goes beyond offering awesome products. The dream of a truly “passive” stream of income is often shattered when authors realize that, in order to keep customers happy, they have to offer support.

If I buy your file and there’s a problem with it, I’m going to contact you. If you help me out, I’ll give you a good rating. If you ignore me or you’re rude in any way, I’ll give you a bad rating. It really is as simple as that. You’d do the same if the roles were reversed.

The level of support that you’ll have to offer varies depending on the type of files that you’re selling. Photographers have it easy and can often get by with little to no support requests while successful WordPress Theme authors can expect to have a perpetually full inbox.

Presentation is Key

Once you’ve got your idea all finished and ready to go and are confident that it will do well and can get past the reviewers, it’s time to start considering your presentation. This is where your creativity really needs to be in full force while leveraging the marketing mindset that we discussed before (it’s not business vs. creativity, the two work together).

GraphicRiver authors have this down to a science. Popular items such as the one shown below not only display the final result in an attractive way, they list features and make sales pitches right in the item preview.


When selling a stock item, you not only have to make it better than the competitor’s work, you have to make it look better than theirs to the casual observer. Let’s face it, we all judge books by their covers, so make sure your cover is best.

What Have You Learned from Selling Stock?

There’s absolutely no way to guarantee that you’ll become one of those authors who can make a full time living from stock work alone, but if you follow the steps above, and produce quality work, there’s a good chance that you’ll make a decent and hopefully perpetual side income. I have a super modest stock portfolio that I haven’t added to in ages, and it just bought me a new iPhone and iPad. How cool is that?

Now that you’ve read my tips for success, it’s time to share your experience. What experiences have you had with selling stock items? Which sites have you found success with? Do you have any great tips not listed above?