8 steps to get your theme approved

So your theme has been rejected on Themeforest. Months of hard work for nothing, all that effort down the drain… But why?! Why ??!! You’ll show them… They’ll pay!! They’ll all pay!!

Wait. Relax. There’s still hope, and I’m here to help. Let’s take it step by step.

Ask for feedback

Themeforest has an awesome item discussion forum where you can post your rejected work and ask for feedback. Some people hesitate to ask, either because they’re afraid they’ll get more negative feedback, or because they don’t want to post their work to a forum for fear it will be copied or stolen. But in reality every poster on the forum has had his or her work rejected at least once, so they know what if feels like and will never kick you while you’re down.

And it’s also unnecessary to be afraid of pirates, because the sad truth is that nothing will stop them from stealing your work once it’s enventually accepted and published on Themeforest.

So your best bet is simply to post a large screenshot or a link to your work, keep an open mind, and wait for other designer’s feedback.

Keep an open mind and don’t be defensive

Now the most common mistake people make when dealing when feedback, is that they take every suggestion or criticism as a personal attack. Think about it, if someone took 10 minutes out of their lives to look at your theme and then write a post, you should be thanking them, not saying they’re stupid for not understanding your genius. For example, you see a lot of designers arguing with their critics, trying to prove them wrong and defending their theme. But scoring points on a message board won’t get your theme approved, whereas listening to constructive criticism and actively improving it will.

One of the most common reactions to design criticism is the feeling that people are trying to limit your artistic freedom, or that they “just don’t understand”. But one of the differences between design and art is that design is clearly not subjective. No matter who you ask, a chair with a huge spike in the middle is bad design because you can’t sit on it. It’s not a question of taste. Similarly, dark grey text on a black background will not be readable because of the way the human eye processes light, and there’s not much you can do about it except change that text.

Read up

There are a few resources out there that deal with common rejection factors.  Here’s a start:

Narrow your focus

One reason your theme was rejected might be that its target is too broad. It tries to be everything to everybody, and must compete with the hundreds of existing themes that also try to appeal to all users.

The solution is to target a smaller niche. For example, instead of creating a generic Shopify store theme, you could create a theme specifically for fashion stores, or even better just for high-end fashion. The narrower your focus, the more your theme will stand out from the crowd, and the more chance you have of being accepted.

Of course you’ll be losing some potential customers in the process, but if your theme is well designed and conquers its niche, it will find its way to a broader audience than if it has to compete from the start at the bottom of the huge portfolio-blog category.

Try a different category

This is not always possible, but it can sometimes be worth a try. If your theme has been rejected for the PSD template category, you can try coding it to HTML/CSS and then submitting it in the site template category. If you fail again, you can then try the WordPress category. The reason this might work is that each successive category demands more work, so the standards are not as high (although they still remain very high).

It’s especially true with the PSD category: some of the highest-selling site templates or WordPress themes would not have been accepted as pure PSD templates.

Focus on your strengths

If your design skills are lacking, spending hours in Photoshop to improve your theme might not be the best strategy. Instead, you could try improving other aspects of your theme, such as adding javascript effects, or WordPress hacks. Sometimes it’s easier to make a good impression by playing to your strengths.

For example, the Open House theme is not the flashiest theme on Themeforest. But its killer feature is a fully functional real estate directory. Think about what you can do to make your theme stand out and provide real value to buyers. Another good example is Craigslist. Its design would never get approved on Themeforest. But what if you created a theme that lets you post classifieds?

“Realign” your theme

Realigning, by opposition to redesigning, means making small tweaks and incremental changes rather than a complete overhaul. Sometimes all that’s needed is different colors, a different font, or a little more white space to see your design come together. Or maybe using a grid will give your layout the structure it needed.

I suggest considering each one of the principles of design and taking a long hard look at your theme to see if it could be improved for that particular principle. Ask yourself why you chose that color, and what would happen if you changed it. Try out a different font, maybe by checking out the most downloaded fonts on FontSquirrel.com to see what’s popular. But always try to think about the reason why you’re making those choices, and what kind of reaction they will elicit.

Start from scratch!

I know you didn’t want to hear this, but sometimes it’s quicker to start from scratch than persist in a lost cause. You’ll be amazed at how much faster things will go the second time you design a theme. You’ll have gained valuable experience and feedback from your previous try, and there’s no reason why you can’t re-use some of your CSS or WordPress code, too.
And just because you didn’t submit your work to Themeforest doesn’t mean it has to go to waste: you can still use it for client work, or even give it away for free site to generate traffic (and use that traffic to promote your next theme, of course!).

How do you typically react when your work is rejected? If you have any other ideas, or some more advice, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

About Me

I'm Sacha Greif, a web designer freelancing out of Paris, France. You can check out my portfolio, and of course you should follow me on Twitter.

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