I recently made my first "big" photography sale to Bicycling Magazine who licensed two of my photos for their magazine. Below are some lessons I learned from the experience.
1. Flickr's a great place to advertise and potentially sell your work.
Active selling is not allowed on Flickr, but many people have found sales through the site and at least one member has even found a sponsorship by a Fortune 500 company!
2. Tagging is key.
On Flickr "tags" are basically search terms. List anything and everything you can think of that relates to your photo so people (including those who may want to buy or publish your photo) can find it. Be sure to include location terms if it's relavent. Some of my friends have sold photos to local historical societies or city halls based solely on location.
3. You don't have to be the best photographer if you capture something unique.
If you take photos of flowers or landscapes or tourist destinations, watch out, the competition in those genres is tough -there are just so many people taking similar pictures that your chances of standing out are very small unless you're very VERY good. But, if you have a photo of a nightime bicycle event like I did -there's not much competition and that paid off for me. Many of my friends have had similar sales due soley to being one of very few who had a photo of something that someone wanted (and was willing to pay for) like local historical buildings or an unexpected newsworthy event that didn't get general media coverage. Heck, I made a small sale because a store wanted a photo of an apple wearing shoes -istockphoto didn't have one, but I did!
4. It's not about the camera.
One of the photos that Bicycling magazine published was taken with an Olympus C5000 -a really horrible 5 MP point and shoot camera with terrible low-light performance (and it was a night shot!). So, don't worry if you don't have the most expensive SLR on the market ...or even if you don't have an SLR at all! Whatever you have is good enough, just learn to use it to it's fullest advantage and work on learning to compose an image well.
5. Creative Commons licensing does not hurt your ability to sell your photos.
Both of my Bicycling magazine photos were licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike license. This license allows people to download and use my photo for free for non-commercial use including as their computer or phone wallpaper, or even on their personal blogs or websites (as long as they meet the requirements of the license).
So many people see the use of their photos as theft, but I see it as an advertising opportunity. I have anyone that uses my photo not only attribute the photo to me, but also include my website. And Flickr's guildlines say they must link back to the photo's Flickr page. This helps me advertise my photography lessons and also gain new audiences for my Flickr stream.
6. It helps to be professional and know your prices up front.
Under every photo I display on Flickr is a little blurb of text that explains the license the photo carries, the necessary attribution, and a link to my website for information on commercial use. On my website are my prices and the magazine's first email to me said that my listed price was fine with them. It also helps to have the ability to create an invoice and a W9 (in the US) available to send ASAP for publishers that may be on a tight deadline. For those who photograph people and wish to sell them, a release is also something you'll need on file.