Tony Palmer – ePublishing

Sunday September 13 – Story by Ali Stegert

Tony Palmer’s workshop highlighted the things he wished he’d been told before he began learning the art of digital publishing.

Here are the must-know fundamentals:

  • A digital book is at its most basic a file with this type of label: book_title.epub
  • There are two categories: fixed layout and reflowable.
  • Fixed layout is, in Tony’s opinion, “ridiculous and a waste of time.” It’s equivalent to a PDF.
  • Reflowable layout is the format that allows all of the flexible goodness of ebooks, such as adjustable typography, which allows the reader to choose a favoured font and page colour.
  • Each platform has its own layout specifications. For example, Kindle can’t do landscape layouts. Ratios differ between Kindle, Kobo, and iPad.

Tony went on to show how to convert a standard Word document to an ePub document using software tools such as Indesign and Sigil (used by publishers). Converting is the first part, and it’s pretty straightforward.

Next is the editing stage, which happens via software suites such as Calibre, Dreamweaver and Sigil. This is where things get complicated, but it’s also where the magic happens. Editing an epub document isn’t about fixing spelling and punctuation; it’s line-by-line editing to set page breaks, lock images to a point in the text, spacing between characters, and more. Familiarity with coding languages such as HTML and CSS is crucial.


Big Burning Questions

Tony explored the philosophy of eBooks, including the big questions about the future of digital publishing. Will ePub go the way of books on CD-ROM (remember those?) or is it around for good? Publishers aren’t making money on digital books. They account for something like 5- 10 per cent of the revenue of Australian publishers, while in the American market it’s around 25 per cent. Many publishers outsource the work of creating eBooks to the Philippines.

ePub Pros & Cons

Most popular digital platforms, smart phones and tablets, are rife with distractions, making uninterrupted book reading a real challenge. Also, “eBooks are usually very, very ugly.” Contributing to the ugliness issue is the fact that embedding copyrighted fonts is a huge legal issue, particularly for major publishers. While often eBook aesthetics isn’t prioritised, they can look great if the creator has a good eye and some training.


Tony has had a long career as a book designer for various Australian publishers. He teaches typography at Victoria University, and is completing a master’s degree in the aesthetics of typography in Mandarin. He has also written three books, his most recent is The Soldier’s Gift.

Ali Stegart has had a number of short stories published and several novels are in the pipe line. Read more about her, and her full blog on this workshop, at


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