Tooling: About to start my book using LaTex. Good Idea or No-Go?


#1

/this is a cross post from the Blades in the Dark community/

I’m willing to take the next step and write “the book” in contrast to my current preview/playtest-material. Therefore the tool question came up again and I decided to switch from Word to LaTex . If you have tried that and came to the conclussion that this is a bad idea please let me know. This would be helpful before I invest countless hours, so in advance thanks for your time, effort and insight.

Some background about this decision which may be helpful for you if you’re thinking about using those tools. (sorry for the long post)

  • InDesign is no option because of the price tag, because I’m on windows and because of (missing) know-how. The gap is to large to make the leap.
  • I tried Scribus on my preview document and it was a huge pain. What I want is floating text (in contrast to page by page) because major part of my text is not fixed yet. I still change a lot and therefore I need a more flexible flow.
  • Word is just the usual pain. It’s ok when you have a text which is 30-40 pages but no more. Main pain point: You don’t see where the pagebreaks / formatbreaks are and it’s very hard to create them at the right place in the document. You delete one character and the documents behaves strange. Even more painful: You may not notice that because the change is not on the page you see but some other page and you save/save/save before you recogize that you did something wrong. Word promises that you can start right away with near to zero knowledge. In my experience this is not true if you want low-hassle documents with > 10 pages
  • I already used LaTex for my thesis which feels like yesterday but is actually >30 years ago. But a beautiful type and very professionally looking books are still unchanged since then. The missing WYSIWUG is not a problem with integrated tools like TeXworks and MikTex and write/compile is a mindset a like (read: I’m used to programming). I know the downside (s. below) and I’m willing to invest some/a lot of time for the groundwork of “programming” the framework first. There are a lot of (free) know-how resources out there and and even a free (D&D-based) RPG template, so I’m willing to give it a try.

I hope for a beautiful book with little hassle when I decided to switch something consistently throughout the book. You may hear my cry of pain in the following weeks.

Downsides of using Latex:

  • No WYSIWYG: If you want that it is not your tool. There are online tools trying to give you that but it’s still editing source code-view the results and not edit in what you see.
  • Get the system up and running: Solved with MikText installer + TeXworks installer. This used to be a huge pain back in the old days but this is working like a charm now. Just DON’T use standalone installer but the regular ones and you’re ready to go in 5 Minutes.
  • Tables are ugly: My hope lies with the template (see above) where this is already solved. I hope to learn from there.
  • Including pictures is painful: Full page pictures as well as small ones included in the text. I really liked that in my old document, so I hope I can pull that off here, too. Solution: Some of the problems are solved in the template (see above), solving the rest will be sweat & tears.

So, if you have something to say about writing rpg books using LaTex I’m all ears about that.


#2

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#3

Side tangent: Many years ago, I taught myself how to use Word and tried to design print books and character sheets with the application. Suffice it to say, I shared your feelings about it being seemingly random and insanely frustrating. Now, my day job is editing textbooks on how to use Microsoft Office, including Word, and I’ve since learned that the cause of my frustration was all the bad habits I picked up teaching myself. It’s true that you’ll need to take some time to learn how to use Word properly, but personally, I think it is worth the investment.

The big question to consider before proceeding with LaTex is whether you want to eventually send these files to a printer for publishing. If so, you’ll need to generate PDFs for the printer (with bleed, though PoD might be different). (Alternatively, be willing to pay your printer to format your files for you. I was really impressed by a local union print shop that basically did Mail Merge for our volunteer organization when none of us knew how to do it ourselves.)

I’m not sure what options LaTex offers for exporting to PDF, but I would look into that and do some tests before proceeding further.


#4

Have you looked into Affinity Publisher at all? It promises to be an InDesign clone at a cheaper price point, and they’re doing a free beta at the moment.


#5

I’ve never used Latex but after some googling it would probably function fine for the literal writing of the book. I would definitely stay away from the software that frustrates you.

Regardless of what you do use for writing you or someone else will need to use a publishing program to put out an acceptable PDF or printed product. If you are working with many other creators then Indesign is probably the best bet as it is the industry standard. Scribus is capable but if you are already turned off of it then it might not be the best option. Affinity Publisher as stated above is a good alternative. It is in free beta and it functions quite well, I have used it and I will be switching over to it once I am done working on the project I am currently working on. I found it relatively straightforward to get into, however that was after I already had a go at Scribus and Indesign. What ever you choose YouTube tutorials are your friend.


#6

What about writing in a light format like https://asciidoctor.org/docs/asciidoc-syntax-quick-reference/ or Markdown and converting from there via https://pandoc.org/demos.html to latex.
So you get the best from both worlds: easy writing and better layout.


#7

Thanks everybody for the feedback and the input. Much appreciated! :slight_smile:

@lindevi Interessting pov. Actually I’m all for know your tool and not 10% of its functions … and word is a tool I use in real life job on an hourly basis. So, maybe it makes sense to learn a bit more even if work templates are crap and obviously not written by anyone who learned the tool as much as he should.
LaTex in the old days was meant to produce professional input format for printing = post script. Then pdf came along and there are modules now who let you produce pdf as well. I remember this well because I had to include this in my thesis at the last moment because my prof wanted that “modern stuff” in it. That was a day before my deadline and some stress. Now this is 2 decades ago and pdf is just given but a big thanks for pointing out that potential pit fall.

@Curubethion I did not! Thanks for the hint. I’m not sure if I want to invest the time and learning another tool (or clone of a tool) but I’m just downloading the beta and maybe there’s something in it for me.

@Killertick Problem with tools is, that I don’t recognize from the start which will frustrate me and which will be just the right tool. I tend to keep them too long because I don’t want to believe that they are not working for me. I’m a one man show and plan to stay it, so I do writing, layout, art by myself and I need something good looking to motivate me. Just plain text is a small problem here but LaTex is kind of that (seperating text from layout), so it might be the right pain.

@Thomas_Junk Will have a look at that, thanks! I was a bit suprised that LaTex is still a thing in certain circles which assured me that the tool is still good for my task. Good to see that there are even more tools as I knew (or willing to learn :wink: )

So, thanks everybody for your mindful words, tipps and hints. You helped to push by book a bit forward. Great!


#8

:slight_smile: Not in my reality. Maybe I change to layout to often (3 columns, 2 columns, landscape, portrait).


#9

My bet is that you are probably fine. Certainly most technical publishers still use LaTeX at some point in their production process still. (AFAIK)

You can convert LaTeX to pdf with minimal issues. And to be honest, I personally am quite fond of the default look of LaTeX converted to pdf. A couple decades ago I was using SGML to make documentation and would convert it to LaTeX to print it.

I’ll agree with you about tables though… I was recently thinking about using it for publishing some game stuff and tables looked to be tricky to get right. (Images as well…)

I will say this: if you figure it out and document it I’d likely make use of said documentation at some point down the line…


#10

@shanel Thanks for the evaluation and I’m happy to share my results. Re-use and share via github is also part of the programmer’s dna, right? :wink:


#11

I never personally used LaTex, but I got a friend who wrote her entire thesis on it and she was really happy with the results. Her document included table and pictures, if i remember correctly, but, being a technical document, she was more concerned with reading clarity rather than with “beauty”. All in all I believe that if you can rely on templates LaTex should be a great tool to work with.


#12

Hey, I just use LaTeX, though I’ve been considering branching out into Affinity because everyone else is. I usually do two or three column one page “poster” style with it but I’ve also made decently long pdfs (40 pages) without issue. Once you get a basic template you like it’s really not hard at all.

I use atom.io, with a latex plugin. Couldn’t be simpler, I just save and it compiles or tells me why it doesn’t. Pictures aren’t too hard either, you can use framebox to adjust sizes pretty easily. Wrapping, now, that can be fiddly! I’ve never managed “smooth” wrapping, only blocky. I’m happy to share my table stuff too, such as it is. It’s not that hard to get it looking “just fine”, though the blocky default isn’t lovely.

Anyway, I can’t imagine you’d have too much issue with it, if you choose it. :slight_smile:


#13

+1 on Affinity Publisher here, have used it on several projects and it really works great. I don’t have an InDesign license anymore and Scribus works but is very painful to use. I would love to see game designers drifting towards Affinity Publisher.

Regarding LaTex: If it is a simple book, I’d stick to Markdown for writing. Later you can convert to LaTex for typesetting via Pandoc.


#14

My only reservation about LaTex would be if you’re going to have external layout or editing persons try to work with it in the future. I remember trying to fix things when I was format checking grad theses. But if that’s not something you will have to worry about, then it would be fine.


#15

Besides, I want to throw in a nice article about using LaTeX:

http://www.danielallington.net/2016/09/the-latex-fetish/


#16

While I am using InDesign (and thinking of giving the Affinity package a try), I strongly believe in the sentiment that:

The best camera is the one you have with you.

If you know LaTeX already - go with LaTeX. Sure it might not be the current standard for “professional” layout work, but unless you are planning to send it to third parties to mess with your layout, this doesn’t matter.


#17

Thanks to everybody! I learned a lot, will do some more reading and then start my way down the LaTex path of desperation. Affinity Publisher looks cool, too, so I hope to use it in the future maybe for a different project or as a Plan B if my Latex ambitions are to big to make a reality.


#18

I have used LyX as a GUI for LaTex but as you say, tables are especially tricky. They kept wanting to go off the page for me.


#19

I’ve been using Affinity for all my stuff this year (value which can’t be beat now, and won’t when it goes commercial), but I am really annoyed that they removed Symbols from the Publisher beta - it was an invaluable time-saver in my RPG work to resize/restyle one element and have it flow to all instances of it in the layout.


#20

I’m using the Affinity Publisher beta at the moment, and so far it is great. The latest beta version has added a feature which was much needed by me, and now I think it is ready to go for me!