How we made first $3000 on ThemeForest.

Soft reject. First blood)

A story of ThemeForest author’s experiments for those who wants and already does sell on the marketplace.

Hi, noble reader. Today I want to share with you our experience in creating WordPress themes and some details about selling on popular marketplace called ThemeForest. Since you’ve encountered this article, I suppose you are most likely to be one of three:

  • a part of a team, designer or developer, who is already selling on ThemeForest. In this case you’ll have some curious reading and will be able to compare our way with your own experience;
  • a designer or developer and you are just thinking about “career” on ThemeForest. If that’s the case you will learn a lot of useful stuff and true honest information at first hand, hope this will help you to assess the situation, avoid some mistakes and finally reach success;
  • customer who purchases WordPress themes for your own needs or as a template for your clients’ projects. You’ll see how much effort it usually takes to create a decent theme and to be approved on this marketplace, so in the end the product you buy is completely and totally worth those couple of dozens dollars :)

The goal

The main goal of every enterprise is to make money. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you may not also have parallel lofty aims, but still.. At least our goal was (and still is) to earn, and the bigger, the better :). Moreover, our plan was even more ambitious — we wanted to create a separate “WP Unit”, which would in a while produce themes on its own, covering our basics for another project (this project by the way is already running, but this is a different story, I’ll try to tell it next time). So first things first.


Who are “we”. There are three of us — my friend-developer, my friend-designer and myself, an enthusiast let’s say, who didn’t know literally a thing about web design nor about development. Two of my friends had some experience with ThemeForest already back in 2012–2013 and there was some relatively good result (of course it depends on your geographical location — amount that in one country is enough for a living for entire month, in other country may be a few days salary. We, by the way, live in Ukraine), so we didn’t have to start completely from a scratch — there already was an account with ThemeForest, some followers, and a dozen of items my friends released years ago drop by drop had been moving the account to the edge of elite author status.

(You become an elite author once your overall sales on Envato markets reach $75000). For the newbies — this status absolutely doesn’t mean that now you’re special and all your problems are now left behind. Most of authors do not notice any increase in sales or stuff like that. The only really tangible benefit, as for me, is that now you reach maximum percentage rate — you get 70% of your sales value and 30% go to Envato.

Here is the detailed percentage table:

Actually, Elite Author status is just the very first step to glory:

Anyway, let’s get back you our “brilliant” plan :)

Brilliant plan.

As I said, we wanted to throw our forces to a completely different project, having ThemeForest on a background as a minimal (or not minimal) financial source for our activities. Pretty optimistic, isn’t it? So we made an obvious decision — to hire designer and developer. Decent professional designers and developers, certainly, know their value, and why would such people work for someone anyway, if they can do this on their own? Plus our budget was pretty limited. So optimism level of the next decision was sweeping off scale — to find promising rookies and grow them through the process. No sooner said than done :). By that time somewhere on a background we heard some rumours about ThemeForest lifting up their standards, but for some reason we did not give a proper meaning to it.

So we put an ad, received a few dozens of resumes, picked up a dozen among them and replied with test tasks. The ones who coped with those tests the best we interviewed in person, and finally chose our interns. I should also mention that we rejected an idea to work from homes right away, so our search area was limited by our hometown (around 500.000 population). We rented an office in order to keep a working atmosphere and to always have our protégés in sight and teach them constantly, purchased computers, some furniture and other needed stuff. According to our expectations, our future designer and developer had to become self-sufficient and start to produce themes on their own in 6 months, and in 4 months we planned to release our first “mutual” theme so the first trickle of money would flow. In the end of this 6th month we had to have at least $3000 monthly, which would cover the minimal expenses, and then our rising WP stars had to add a new theme every month or two, layering up our profits. Getting ahead I’ll say that the plan turned out to be not so crazy and partly worked. But just partly.

First attempts.

It was in the middle of September — great time weather-wise here in Ukraine, with excellent mood and full of enthusiasm we began. In the first months we did not expect much results from our students except for their personal professional progress, so our designer-beginner, under a close supervision of my experienced designer-friend, chose a category and started to work on the very first theme (for creative agency). Meanwhile friend-developer and his protege mastered WordPress. Plan was to get PSD design accepted first, which would show us that we are on the right way, and build WordPress theme based on this design afterwords. And it was pretty encouraging when after only 2 soft rejects the very first PSD called Lorem went through!

When you think your item is ready for sales on ThemeForest, whatever it is a WordPress theme, PSD or HTML template, landing page etc, you submit it for review. There may be three possible decisions on your item — Soft reject, Hard reject and Approved. Soft reject means that an item basically has a strong chances to be accepted but needs certain improvements. In this case reviewer points out what has to be fixed. Hard reject means that your item does not correspond to the marketplace standards fundamentally and can’t be accepted, without any explanations as a rule. Approved speaks for itself.

Our first PSD’s rejects:

(1)Soft Rejected: Thank you for your submission. Please reduce the file size of this item as it is over our 1GB file size limit.

(2)Soft Rejected: Thank you for your submission. 1. Please make sure all groups and layers are named appropriately. 2., Please provide either PDF or HTML documentation for this item 3. Please remove the preview folder from the ZIP.


I guess this was a moment where we got relaxed prematurely. Developer guy started to convert this Lorem PSD into WordPress, and designer got more freedom working on the next layouts.

What happened next?

Each other PSD design our new designer created, despite all our efforts, got hard rejected one after another. Altogether there were four of them. And each time we put rejected design aside and started new one from a scratch, as it was easier (as we thought) to start over than to guess what might be wrong with it and try to fix unknown issues.

Here are some of the designs that failed to be accepted:

Rejects, rejects, rejects…

It took more than 3 months before we submitted the first WordPress version of Lorem for review and got our first soft reject, one of many. By that time our optimism began to dissolve and we started to see the real situation, and it wasn’t good. Our money reserves were about to come to an end, no new designs got accepted, rose-tinted glasses slipped off and we finally began to realise the problems our intern designer had, which we didn’t pay much attention to and used to justify with protracted learning curve. So we decided to say our intern designer goodbye and to proceed for a while with our own forces. Though the process of fixing the issues after each soft reject, the design of the Lorem theme had been changed almost beyond recognition. Cause despite the fact that the PSD template had been approved, we kept receiving comments from review team similar to this one:

Unfortunately ‘WordPress’ has higher standards in terms of aesthetics. An approved design in other categories does not guarantee an approval under ThemeForest’s WordPress category. Your design has an interesting starting concept, but it needs significant improvements in terms of aesthetics and attention to details. As higher quality items become available in the marketplace, approval requirements will increase to maintain appropriate marketplace quality.

It took us 2 months sharp to beat 7 soft rejects. Most of the times we fixed everything a reviewer suggested within several hours and had to wait for 3 days for the next decision.

Here is the history of rejects Lorem had and our conversations with the review team.

Happy ending.

In the end Lorem turned into elegant, sophisticated multipurpose WordPress theme, and you are very welcome to check the final result here:

While our new developer was struggling with the Lorem, more experienced part of our team finished another theme called FightClub, designed for combat and fitness clubs, gyms and yoga studios. It has practically the same history of rejects, except that there were a few less, so I won’t go into details here and rather save myself for another story. Here is the FightClub theme for your approval:


Our two themes were released with 10 days difference. We reached the financial minimum of $3000/month in less than 25 days since the first theme got accepted, but with 2 months delay, comparing with our initial plan :). We did manage to find and grow a decent WordPress developer from a nice guy who didn’t have any notion in WP at all (of course he had some basics in html,etс, but still). We kind of failed with designer, who is a great person by the way, I’m sure she had a lot of fun with us and had a great chance to bump her skills up, so in the end we all learned our lessons.

Is this result good or bad — it depends. We stay optimistic and keep working twice harder on adding new homepages and creating new themes. Even more — as I understood from a few other authors’ articles I’ve encountered— we got off cheap. What do you think about it? Would be great to see your comments and to read about your own experience! Thank you for being here and have a good time!