After thinking carefully about what makes a picture stand out, after being competent to get the right exposure and focus, the most important thing is the depth of field. This will make or break your photographs.
If you study the photographs that are in print, you will find that the best photos are often the one that have more depth of field in the photograph and have been carefully planned to be sharp from foreground to background. What will always ruin your day is images that are only sharp in the middle. It leaves a feeling that you don’t see when looking at objects in real life. Think about how you see objects in real life, that is what makes photographs go from being just ok to great.
Think carefully about your f-stop, even if you have to bump the iso up, you should be shooting at f22 or smaller. The more depth of field you can squeeze into an image, the better it’s going to turn out. Look at the photographs that stand out, look at what they have in common. I think if you study them you will see that DOF is vital to your success. If in doubt try taking a few and experiment with it, it might take two minutes more of your time, but it will be worth the effort.