eBooks and ePublishing Formats

What’s an ebook?

Ebook is a bit of a catch-all phrase. When someone uses the term ‘ebooks’, they could be referring to any of a number of different file formats.

Essentially, an ebook is a file that can be read on an electronic device, like a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, a smartphone, or an e-reader like the Kindle® or Nook®.

Common file types that qualify as an ebook are:

  • ePub
  • PDF
  • Mobi
  • Fixed Layout epub
  • iBook

Each of these file types has a slightly different purpose and various advantages and limitations.


An epub file is essentially a website that has been packaged. Chapters are documents linked together from one main document or a number of files. A Table of Contents (TOC) helps the device navigate through the sections.

ePub files are widely used, especially for novels and other text-based books. It has something that not all the others formats have — the ability to ‘reflow’.

A reflowable epub file is responsive to the device. An epub file will shape-shift to fit nicely on a screen no matter what the size or resolution.

The user can often change the typeface to an option they prefer and can change type size to reduce or enlarge.


Limitations of epub

You cannot have bleed (graphics or colour that runs over the page). That’s because when you are working with a reflowable electronic document, there is no page. The page is the user’s screen which may be small or very large.

Complex layouts will create headaches as everything is pushed into one column.

No shapes are supported. You can get around this by converting the shape to a jpeg, which it will support.

Master page items are ignored, as are overlays, tabs, returns, and indents unless they are assigned as Styles.

It is crucial to apply styles both Paragraph and Character styles for your epub files. The styles are important for how the publication will flow. If you ignore styles and set the type with Bold, italics, indents and so on wherever you feel, it will force the ePub to include CSS code for all these ‘overrides’. This will ultimately create a bloated file.  Styles will keep it lean and clean.

You also need to apply a Table of Contents Style.

You cannot currently convert a Microsoft Word doc to ePub. You need a program like InDesign to create it. Mac’s Pages software can also create an epub file.


This is the dedicated format for Amazon and the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Amazon will convert your epub file to a .mobi when you upload it to KDP.

Fixed Layout ePub

This format is good when you want a more magazine-style look, or kids book, such as when you have a lot of graphics or your layout is more complex than straight text.

The Fixed layout ePub can be created to deliver something to your reader that looks much like the layout you have generated in your source program. If the position of images and text is important, it could be better to sacrifice reflowable text functionality and go for the fixed layout as you can better guarantee the user experience.

Having said that, because it isn’t reflowable, it could be harder to read if the user is on a small screen, as they have to manually zoom in.


Most people know PDF. It is everywhere and even Internet browsers often have their own PDF reading software. The problem is that not all PDFs are created equally. They are not reflowable and you cannot upload a PDF to sell to Amazon, Google, Apple or most ebook retailers. PDF is fantastic for a lot of things but e-publishing is not one of them.


This is Apple’s own proprietary epub format. The Apple iBooks application only sells .ibook.

By uploading an epub file to iBooks Author, the iBooks Author application will convert to a .ibook file for sale and distribution from there. The bad news is that it isn’t used anywhere except by Apple iBooks, and it can’t be used on your own website.

The .ibook file is reflowable when the device is held in landscape mode. When held in portrait, it becomes fixed layout epub.


That’s a  snapshot of a few of the various e-publishing file formats.

History and Styles of Graphic Design

Egyptian temples were filled with graphic art. Medieval navigation maps were full of symbols and imagery.

Graphic design is not a new concept. The term itself may have been first coined in 1922, but graphic design has existed since the earliest cave art.

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance saw the heavy use of heraldry–the armour, family, class, rank and pedigree. Cattle branding was used to show ownership and quality. Continue reading

Making your documents accessible

Can you imagine going through a family photo album and all you could see is squares of blank paper where the pictures should be?

On every piece of paper there is one word: Image.

That’s what the experience is like for someone using assistive technology if you don’t make sure your documents are accessible.

What is Accessibility?

Around 20 percent of people at any time have a disability or impairment. When it comes to reading documents online, in many cases, this can be aided or overcome by using what is known as assistive technology.

For example, anyone could have a need for assistance because of visual impairment or blindness, a physical impairment, neurological (tremor), and so on.

An accessible document means that the document can be accessed by everyone. It is an equity issue.

Why is accessibility important?

The Australian Human Rights Commission expects websites to be accessible.

In the United States, section 508 is a federal law mandating “that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities.” It’s an equity issue.

Around the world, it is not just governments that require accessibility standards, many larger corporations understand the importance and value as well. In Australia, the Australian Government also has similar mandatories. https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

There is a precedent in Australia that a company can be sued for not providing an accessible website if they have been notified that the site is inaccessible and they have failed to modify it.

Whether you are part of a government or not, the best practice is to make any publicly available document on a website accessible.

What is Assistive Technology?

When it comes to online reading, there are loads of types of assistive technology. Possibly the most common is JAWS. Here is a demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faZZaDaghBw


How to make Word and Adobe InDesign documents accessible

Many software programs now have accessibility checkers. You can use this to see whether there are any issues with an existing document.

If you are starting from scratch, here is a good summary of how to get the document to comply.  While it is possible to remediate files in Adobe Acrobat Pro if the end state will be a PDF, it is much easier and far preferable to get them accessible in the source document in the first place.

This is not an exhaustive article, there are many things to consider. However, this is how to make accessible Word and InDesign documents in a nutshell.

When I am designing or remediating documents to make them accessible, I use an acronym to help me remember each step. MATLOC  (there was a TV show with this name when I was a kid).


MATLOC stands for :

  • Metadata
  • Alt Text
  • Tagging
  • Language
  • Order (the reading order)
  • Contrast

Let’s start with Metadata.


Essentially, the document’s metadata is the information embedded into a text-based file that explains what it is and who wrote it. It is good practice to add this information to your documents if they will be publicly available.

  • Title (a clear, descriptive name for the document)
  • Author
  • Subject
  • Description: a full sentence that clearly explains the content. This is not promotional copy; the main point is that it is succinct and accurate.
  • Keywords (separate them with commas)

This will aid in online search as well as enabling a screen reader or other device to describe the content of the document.

Where do I add metadata?

To do this in Adobe InDesign, go to File > File Info

In Microsoft Word, go to File > Properties

For InDesign, I recommend this helpful article by David Blatner  all about metadata in InDesign.

In this same area is also where you can set the Language, so we’ll jump to the L.


In InDesign, this can be found under the Advanced tab.

Make sure you choose whichever language in which the document is composed. In my case, it’s British English / English (UK).

If you are n InDesign and you are exporting a PDF [either for Print or Interactive], you can go to Export > choose PDF. Under the Advanced Tab, you can choose the Default language for the file.

Alternative Text (ALT TEXT)

Handa MatsuriThis is text that is served as an alternative for a reader who cannot ‘see’ the picture.

For example, I have a photo of Hand Matsuri, the Japanese festival that occurs every five years in many towns and villages. The ALT TEXT I would enter could be: ‘a photo of matsuri’ In the description field, I might say: ‘ crowds at Handa Matsui, Aichiken, in 2003.

Some people make the mistake of leaving their images blank and a screen reader might just default to the word ‘image’.

Where do I add Alt text?

In Microsoft Word, right click on the image. Select ‘Format Picture’. Choose the Layout and Properties button.

You have two fields to fill in: Title and Description (as pictured below). Using the alt text title as the basis, a user of assistive technology can choose whether they want to see th3 full description and get more information. The description, in other words, should have a bit more detailed information, but still be succinct.

In Adobe InDesign, the alt text space is found under Object menu. So the path is Object >  Object Export Options, then select Alt Text.

From here you can select another XMP source if you have one set up, or otherwise, choose Custom. Enter the description into the box.



 You will be familiar with tags like <p> paragraph and <h1> for main headings and <h2> for Handa Matsurisecondary headings and so forth.

This is how we can tell an assistive device the order of our information. The key thing to keep in mind is that it is all about good document formatting, using Styles and tags.

For example, in Microsoft Word, we use Styles for body copy, headings, bullet points and numbered lists. Styles are the hooks for tags.

It is the same for InDesign. Don’t just use the Control Panel, create a Style for the different pieces of content, and apply that Style. Avoid overrides. Use both Paragraph Styles and Character Styles when you need them.

If you need to make a space between lines, for example, make a paragraph style for the spacing and apply it, don’t just hot the ENTER key.

The easiest way I find is to create the look you want with the right leading and type size, and then create the Style for that.

Other things to include are <header> tags for table headings and a Style for lists.


The reading order of a document in English is generally left to right, from top to bottom. In Japan, reading order is right to left.

If you have an infographic or a table that you think is obvious for someone looking at it, think about how it will be served using assistive technology.

The key is to make things as simple and logical as possible. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe how to move content blocks in Acrobat to show reading order, but this can be done if you are working with very complex tables of information. In most instances, avoid tables if you can.

You can use the Touch Up Reading Order tool in Acrobat Pro to fix reading order and basic tagging problems. https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/touch-reading-order-tool-pdfs.html


This is the clarity of colours used in your document. The clearest is Black on a white background, so you are generally okay if this is your black-and-white document.

Be aware of pastel colours in type. Go for strong contrast, rather than shades and be wary of coloured type unless it is very clear.

Contrast is something that needs to be manually checked, and there is a website that will help you check your colour values and offer alternatives if they don’t comply. WebAIM.org http://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/

Exporting to PDF

If you are designing a document in Microsoft Word or Indesign and plan to make a PDF (either for print or interactive), make sure you check the boxes to:

  • Create Tagged PDF
  • Bookmarks
  • Hyperlinks

Now let’s go back to that photo album. You’ve made sure the document is accessible. I am opening the album to page one. My Text-to-voice reader tells me that this section is called Seaside Holiday. The blank square of paper says Photo of Joey and Bobbi at the beach making a sandcastle. I can see it in my mind.

To summarise, accessible design of documents is about design fundamentals—clarity and simplicity. Making documents accessible feels good.

Use the built-in software features that assist good layout. That means:

Be disciplined with Styles; describe with text anything that is visual; add metadata; and clear contrast.

These things, and MATLOC to remember them, will help you create well-crafted accessible documents for everyone to enjoy—even that 20 percent who may have a permanent, or temporary, need for assistive technology.

Sublime royalty-free music for your videos

Everyone knows video is one of the most powerful ways to connect with your audience/customer base.

But one of the frustrations is music.

A video can be made so much more effective with some ambient music. But unless you compose your own, or purchase some from an audio site, how can you get the right sound fast?

The answer is:

YouTube Audio Library

This amazing collection from YouTube solves your copyright issues. You simply download the mp4. You need to check the user permissions. Generally, it is okay for YouTube videos and other social media.

Use the audio clip as a layer in your video file. I use Adobe Premier Pro and Apple iMovie most of the time and it’s easy in both. (You generally drag the audio.mp4 to the space below the motion clip.)

If you subscribe to the Audio Library channel, you can get hold of a new piece every day.

Thank you, YouTube!

Audio Jungle

Other places you can pay (a few dollars, not much) for some great quality audio in .wav and .mp4 formats are the awesome Melbourne guys at Envato and their subsidiary website audiojungle for some royalty-free music and audio.


Soundcloud is an online audio distribution platform. The quality of the sounds here is amazing. You can make an amateurish piece of footage (like most of the stuff I produce for myself) come across as something a bit more special.


If you would like something totally unique and custom compositions for you, I would definitely suggest having a look at the ContiMusic website.

Created by husband and wife, Tom and Chris, this is exceptional music that is suitable for many kinds of uses. You can purchase a membership subscription or pay a small amount to purchase it royalty-free and access superior sounds. Think Yann Tierson (‘Amelie’ composer) and Philip Glass. (Please note: This recommendation may sound like an affiliate rant, but it’s not. I have no affiliation and receive no payment from Conti Music, I just like their stuff.)

(Please note: These recommendations may sound like the usual rants of an affiliate, they are not. I have no affiliation and receive no payment from Conti Music, I just like their stuff.)

Why I Dig Canva (and So Will You)

I cringed at first. I thought it was a gimmicky website that would replace elegant design work with awful DIY wallpaper and slowly wrest demand away from quality graphic designers. I wasn’t keen. So I ignored it.

To be honest, it didn’t really grab my attention until veterans like Joan Stewart and Guy Kawasaki start promoting it. When those two get onto something, I listen. I tried it out. I liked it.

Now I really dig Canva. Why?

Canva screenshotDig, you say? Now you dig it?

Yes. I can dig it. This is why. Not just because it’s from my nabe – Surry Hills (Sydney).

With Canva, you jump right in and – without any design headaches – you can drag and drop text, images, backgrounds, shapes, and all sorts of great features.

With templates for Twitter, Facebook covers, Facebook post updates, posters, presentations, postcards, flyers, business cards, book and ebook covers, and print and web resolutions, you’re all set to create unique and eye-catching graphics to show off your posts.

Things I dig about Canva

Affordable Stock

My  once-beloved iStockphoto I have been using since 2004. I started as a contributing photographer, as well as a purchaser for the myriad campaigns I needed to pull together every year. I used to be able to afford the credits and the range of prices was reasonable for my employer’s wallet. Fast forward and I am sorely disappointed that, with Getty, the most basic package is now $36 AU for just 3 credits. Yes, the Getty quality if great, but c’mon.

This is where Canva steps up. It has over 1,000,000 images and the quality is… well… it’s okay. You can usually get what you’re after.

And most times the image is only $1. That’s what I like – transparent, easy to remember. A credit package is ten bucks and that kept me going for some time. Ten bucks is not much to outlay and you can get ten images out if it.

Infoginfographic elements in canvaraphic Elements

Putting together graphs, pie charts, schematics and the like, well it’s expected these days. But it’s time consuming. Canva can help, even just with some ideas. The range has been helpful to me in planning my graphics for magazines, publications and reports.

They are crude and a little rudimentary, but it’s a good place to dig about and see what you can get.

There’s also plenty of free elements in there, like maps of countries and pencil clip art, that kind of thing.


I adore typography and Canvas has a large selection of modern fonts to play with. There is also a ‘Design’ school tutorial section which shows people the basics of pairing fonts, developing colour palettes, and that kind of thing.

Original Creations

I dig Canva because it helps bloggers, web users, everyone who has any website material or social media accounts to maintain to do so without breaching copyright.

Believe me there are people so blissfully ignorant of copyright, you’d fall off your chair.

You can use Canva as an option for people who are in the habit of taking images off Google images oblivious to the fact that, just because you can right click > save something, doesn’t give you the license to do it.

It’s nice to have that clarity and creativity.

Integrity costs you nothing. Well, with Canva it costs very little anyway.

Do you use Canva? What do you think?


The Power of Interactive PDF

One of the best things about Adobe InDesign is the ability to save your files as Interactive PDFs.

Imagine designing an online brochure with a photo for each of your products. When someone clicks a product image, it turns into a video showing off the cool features.

If they have a question? They can fill in an enquiry form.

What’s an Interactive PDF?

This is no bog standard portable document format (PDF) file. You can add active hyperlinks, for example, and fillable forms. You can design a Submit button and have the data in that form sent to an email address. You can also add bookmarks and movies. Sometimes.

Some people ask why not just have a website. The answer is that an interactive PDF can be more like a magazine, does not require an active internet connection, and can be emailed or supplied on a branded USB stick.

What can you do with it?

The sky is the limit with what you could do with an interactive PDF. Here are a few ideas.

  • Make an Annual Report for your company. Leave out the financial tables and use the general company info for your organisation all year round.
  • Make a Product Catalogue to Email to prospective customers/clients.
  • Make a membership brochure with a fillable application form. You can also link to a payment gateway like Paypal if you want.
  • Show off a Portfolio of your work and have an enquiry form.
  • Create a Conference booklet that includes a Gallery of Abstract Posters with links to findings, research presentations, and links to related sessions during the event.

Current Challenges with Interactive PDF

One of the challenges around interactive PDFs is the lack of consistency between PDF viewers over the internet.

As Bob Levine says, “Most users think that a PDF is a PDF is a PDF. This is simply not true.” In that sense, PDF is a victim of its own success by the fact that it is now everywhere.

The PDF file was created by Adobe, as well as InDesign and Acrobat, and interactive PDFs are best viewed using Adobe software–whether that is the free Adobe Reader of a sufficiently up-to-date standard (although it doesn’t need to be the latest. Version 7 is fine), or the paid Acrobat Pro or Acrobat DC.

Some browsers have developed their own in-browser PDF viewing capability (Chrome and Firefox), but unfortunately, these don’t support all of the interactive features of the PDF. It’s a real pain and I wish they would get their software in order as Adobe should have the first and last word on what is a universal standard of PDF.

If there are still issues with the user experience of interactive PDF, why not just create an App?

Well, sure. But an App is often well beyond of many.

How do you get around the issues?

If a link is to be sent by email or embedded in a web page, it is best to mention that the PDF is interactive and best viewed in Adobe Acrobat or the free Adobe Reader (e.g. version 7 or later).

If the document is extremely complex, I would suggest considering an alternative such as Fixed Layout ePub. This will create a magazine-style experience with navigation buttons and hyperlinks.

How does it look in ISSUU?

Issuu is a fantastic platform for online magazines I’ve been using for nearly a decade. I tested an interactive PDF in issuu and the results were better than I expected. The hyperlinks worked, including my link over to Paypal, and so did the fillable form. The video, however, didn’t play. No surprises there. Video seems to be the main bugbear when it comes to compatibility.

Want Help?

If you are interested in turning an existing document into an interactive PDF, or Fixed Layout ePub, please get in touch.



How to write a more effective media release

The Media Release Formula

Who. What. When. Where. Why and How. I learned it 20 years ago. Still the formula, right? Sure, but you’re probably boring people. There are often better alternatives.

Occasionally I like to use a bold hairy quite right up front for instant drama and impact. Like this:
“More infant wombats with easily curable illnesses will die unless State government immediately starts upgrading facilities at Wandin Valley Animal Hospital,” said Simon Bowen, the Hospital Director yesterday.
With more tech, entrepreneurs everywhere and a sharing economy, a new ‘story-telling’ formula has emerged. I am indebted here to the enduringly helpful Joan Stewart, who credits Ann Wylie for the X, Y, Z, A formula.
“It looks like this: X (users) who have struggled with Y (problem) will now be able to Z (benefit), thanks to A (product or service).”
It reads like this:
Commuters who now spend an hour each day driving from Sunrise Beach to Osage Beach will soon be able to make the trip in 15 minutes, thanks to a new bridge that the ABC Company will build this summer.
The right formula depends on what the release is about and to whom it is being sent. Remember not all reporters report news the same way.
If there is a different angle for a different audience, right a different release.

What NOT to include in a Media Release

There are plenty of people who still think a Media Release is a multipage advertisement for a product or service or announcement.

It’s not.

A Media Release is closer to an Article.  At least, it should have an angle of interest to a publication that will serve their readership.

Try to help journalists meet their difficult deadlines by providing ready copy (text) they can lift straight out.

That includes strong quotes, with clear and accurate attribution, and a balance of sources.

Don’t use adjectives. The media release is completely impersonal. More often than not, it should have a ‘newsy’ objective feel.

You are not launching a much-needed fantastic or exciting event. You are launching an event. Include your adjectives if you have to) in a direct quote from a person.

A new XYZ event will open on DATE to coincide with ABC. “This is an exciting and much-needed event,” said XXX from YYY. “It’s fantastic the level of support we’ve had.”

Don’t bury the lead. Get to the point immediately. Use the ‘pyramid. The most important information should be right up front. Editors and journalists will edit for space by cutting from the bottom up.

Don’t harass writers and editors by sending a teaser email and then asking them to contact you. They’re busy. Send them your info in the body of an email. Give them whatever they need to run a piece. If there are pictures available, let them know. Avoid sending attachments as they may not get opened due to antivirus protocols in many media organisations.

Hope that helps. If you have any further pointers, please feel free to share them here.