After making more than 30 CodeCanyon and ThemeForest items in about a year I feel confident enough to give an answer to the title question. For those of you who are eager to know the answer right away here it is: It takes a lot of time!
One of the most common question new authors have is, “Can I make money on the marketplaces?” Or if they’re a bit more impatient, “How much time is it going to take me to make x dollars?” Answers to those questions can’t be summed up into a simple “yes” or “no” because they involve a great deal of variables and one of them is the ability to estimate how much time a certain item takes to build. That’s one of the main factors that determine the item’s profitability and consequently author’s earnings.
Getting an idea
Some may argue that getting an idea doesn’t take any time or effort. It can come to you in sleep or while you’re riding a bike. Yes it can, but those moments of enlightenment come and go so sooner or later you’re going to have to resort to a more “boring” and time consuming process – research.
It doesn’t matter whether you have a clear idea, a partial one, or just a glimpse of an item you want to create. Research will ensure that your work is not done in vain. Not only in regards to profits but in regard to whether the item is going to get accepted into the marketplace or not. That process can be trivialized as “doing a bit of googling, browsing and snooping around” but can take hours and usually involves buying, installing and looking over dozens of free and commercial items. Finding out there are a lot of items similar to your idea which are not doing so well doesn’t necessary mean the idea is bad. However it indicates that even more time will have to be invested into production to ensure you don’t fail as many before you did.
After you have a clear idea of what you want to make (and hopefully you wrote some specifications or at least a few bullets) it’s time to fire up your tool of choice. Be it Photoshop, Notepad, Coda or Flash you’re going to have it open for quite some time. “But I’m the best _____ (insert word of choice here) in the world! I’ll make that in a jiffy!” Yes, I’m sure you are the best but regardless of your Superman alike speed and talent there is only one thing that guarantees sales on the marketplaces and that is quality. By no means does that imply you have to do a massive 500 hours project but it does imply that every pixel, dot and bit have to be in the right place. Unfortunately that takes time, no matter how good you are.
How many hours exactly does it take to make an item itself is very hard to say. I’m going to go on a limb and say that five hours of productive, concentrated work is a minimum which basically boils down to one day if you really know what you’re doing and there aren’t any distractions.
Assuming that you commented your code properly while writing it and/or named the PSD layers properly you’re done with that part (although that’s rarely the case). But there’s still the job of writing the “formal” item documentation. Seasoned authors have a lot of text templates and previous docs handy so it often seems that it’s going to be a copy/paste job. Unfortunately it’s not. Every item is unique and it requires at least a thing or two to be added to the docs. It’s always nice to add a few images, code examples and example usage cases. And, in the end, there’s always the issue of spelling and grammar. As many native English speakers noted in the forums – nobody expects you to talk like a librarian but not clicking the “Check spelling” button once you’re done is plain rude! Doing everything that I just described definitely takes more than “10 minutes”. If you’re writing the docs for the first time it can easily take a whole day.
Finally, I’m done! No you’re not!
Item’s done, seems OK. Docs are done (and spellchecked) as well. So we can submit it? Not even close. Now is the time to minimize the number of support requests you’ll get later on. This is achieved by testing, re-testing and punishing your item in every possible way. Although it may seem that this only affects CodeCanyon and ThemeForest items that’s definitely not the case! Can your PSD file be opened in all version of Photoshop? You think it can? Check it! Did you include all the fonts or document the ones that are not included? Check it!
Polishing your item is what sets it apart from other items. It makes your sales go up; you look more professional; you’ll get repeated buyers and as already mentioned it reduces the number of support requests. So don’t be lazy and polish your item up.
Submitting the item
Submitting is another “5 minute job” that can take hours. Thumbnail and preview images are the first things people see when they notice your item. Do you want them looking like something you did while half a sleep? No! Those images need to sum up the whole item in a few bullets, grab the buyers’ attention and sell it in the end. A few revisions, a bit of tinkering and hours will just fly by. Experience and good templates will speed up the process but the amount of time invested in those images will always show.
The same principle applies on item description. You can mangle up a few sentences and definitely loose sales or you can write a detailed (spellchecked!) description with nice formatting, links, images, etc. That, again, takes time.
Every author, no matter how good or how seasoned, sometimes gets rejected. As you gain experience it will happen less often but a friendly advice is to keep that possibility open and take into account that you’ll maybe have to invest additional hours into fixing, reworking and resubmitting the item.
This doesn’t strictly fall under the “creating an item” category but ignoring the post-submit aspect is really not an option for most authors and thus you should calculate it into the overall item building “expenses”. Although the marketplace itself will promote your item it certainly doesn’t hurt to promote it yourself as well. A few tweets, a couple of likes, perhaps a blog post, letting know your friends that you have a new item – possibilities are endless. How much time you spend on it is really up to you.
Biggest job after your item gets accepted and starts to sell is providing support to customers. Although technically it’s not mandatory customers expect support and I can guarantee you that they value it and always come back to authors that give timely and polite responses. Providing support is really a job of its own and once sales pick up it can easily take a couple of hours a day to handle it.
Don’t get discouraged!
I hope this break-down of an item production process didn’t discourage you. It really shouldn’t! It should however serve as a reminder that Envato marketplaces have high, ever growing standards and that even the simplest item takes days to produce. In the end my advice is – play the long game. You won’t achieve anything over night.