When I was a kid, I used to create books and sell them throughout my neighborhood. We had a computer program called The Children's Writing and Publishing Center, and I used to publish The Powell Family News on that sucker and write story collections. I bound them with staples or loops of yarn and slogged them up and down the street, and patient folks gave me a buck for them. My mom still has a collection of Christmas stories that I wrote; she puts it out every year!

I would drop clipart into those stories, trying to make them as multidimensional as possible.

So I've always really enjoyed the DIY ethos, and I'm pretty fascinated by the field of graphic design. One of those sticky points on graphic design, though, is how to generate content to create striking products. I've shot hundreds of photos, but I'm no good behind the lens. I've tried my hand at other artistic mediums, and those efforts were less than successful. I'm no thief, so simply raiding the internet for content without permission is out of the question.

So where does the content come from? How do you bring your blog to life, adding a secondary layer of professionalism and context through images and video? How do you find images for your book covers, professional posters, brochures and newsletters?

Try Fotolia! I think you'll be thankful that you did.

About a month ago, I received an e-mail from Jenna Levy. Ms. Levy offered me a one-month trial membership to the service, and I was simply blown away by it.

It starts with the service's size (over thirteen million images and video clips) and ease of use. A simple search of the database sent me, in some cases, into galleries of hundreds of images. Much of the work comes from independent artists, and there is some excellent artwork in there. A number of my searches hit the nail on the head, yielding just a page or two of perfect results. Either way is fun: I enjoyed clicking through hundreds in search of the diamond in the rough, and I was impressed by the focused search results when I tried some very specific queries.

I really enjoyed the shopping process as I added items to my cart.

The service is also very affordable. Users can purchase content a la carte (for as low as fourteen cents an image!); designers can take out monthly subscriptions for greater access. The service is available in multiple languages, and I found the quality and breadth of variety to be excellent.

I have downloaded about fifty images. I'm excited to dork around with them in my design process. A great many of them feature my home state of Oregon, so I'm thinking of writing a series of essays that will only be enhanced with the crisp, clear images of the places I'm discussing.

Fotolia definitely exceeded my expectations as a content service. I'll be happy to use them moving forward as I contemplate digitizing some of my individual short stories. Another nice aspect of this is funding the artists that use the service. When I buy an image, a portion goes to the artist, which is just the way it should be...

The frontier of publishing is an exciting place to be right now. It promises access and timeliness. But another aspect of getting the most from this new era of publishing is marketing. If you don't have the financial resources to hire an artist, but you have an idea and some determination to make it happen, give Fotolia's database a chance and start dorking around with cover design.

Before you know it, you might be making some pretty fine book covers!

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