From an image editor's (generalized) stand point there is three categories of images we deal with: good, average, and such that simply leave you wondering.
In spite of the (by now countless?) microstock tutorials, blogs, forums, FAQs and so on, there still seems to be some misunderstanding as to what is suitable as a commercial product and what not. Especially in regard to people who are just starting to upload images for the first time. I don't intend to dig down to the very bottom of this issue, but rather ask you, the reader, a few guiding questions. So, here it goes.
1) Would you actually give money for your own images?
There's only a few things that would help one understand the market better than being in the shoes of a customer. And let's be honest - if you were to spend your money on something, you'd want it to be as good as possible. So, are your images worth the buck? ...or even the subscription commission?
Looking back into my brief history, I see quite a few shots which I simply shouldn't have bothered uploading (even with the lower standards back then). Time has very well confirmed this (lack of any sales for over 2 years).
Before I get on to shooting something, these days I always try to pause and think about the commercial value of the subject. Not every object shot on white will sell, just as not every portrait in the park is suitable for an ad.
At the end, it is only fair to expect money for your image(s) if you yourself are ready to pay some. Otherwise we're just fooling ourselves.
2) Are your images well prepared?
I know that many have made comparisons between the various niches of the image market... The macrostock is for pros and the micro - for wannabe photographers who snap a ton of pictures, and hopefully some can be called photographs and used as such. Mainly because the old pros know how to plan and prepare, as opposed to beginners. I'm quite far from the thought that microstock is a joke because I've seen so many impressively creative and high quality photographs... which on top of all have sold for a substantial amount of money.
The question for you, though, is: do you think that a properly prepared and photographed scene will earn you more money than a well composed snapshot?
If so, do you actually spend the necessary amount of time in preparation? I'm not talking about the "oh, this is so obviously set-up", but about the touch-ups invisible to those who are not photographers themselves. Take the food shot at the right, for example. It required the right pan, the proper ingredients, some good lighting, and the extra work to get the fire burning simply makes you hungry. While your average customer doesn't think about all of these details, they sure do look for them and appreciate it when they find them (by purchasing the image, for instance).
3) Are your images surprisingly unique...
or at least do they stand out a bit? With an average 4 or 5-digit search result (for the popular subjects), how do you expect the buyer to choose you? Say there was no sorting parameters and all images were displayed at once. If you were looking for a catchy, impressive, unique image of a car, would you really spend your money on something far below the average?
If your skills, equipment, facilities or whatever else is limiting you, at least try to aim for average quality in your submissions.
I could probably go on for days, talking about the images that so often leave me wondering... However, my idea is to somehow make you wonder as well, just in the other direction. :) Try to regularly put yourself in the customer's shoes.
Do some practical exercising - go after a certain topic and try to find the image that appeals to you best. See how long it takes you to find it, but mostly, once you've found it - analyze it and note down the reasons why that was the
image for you. Go into reverse, and next time you shoot - try to achieve at least several of these qualities. I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by the results... and so will we (the editors) be, as well. :)