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


(Stefan Struck) #1

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.


(Jack Israel (they/them/he/him)) #2

I wish you the best of luck, just finished my thesis using LaTex. Images are the worst of it, but I know there are specific packages for positioning.


(Ben Morgan) #3

Use tools for what they were designed for. Word is a word processor, good for initial writing and editing, bad for layout and graphic design.

For layout, check out Serif’s products. Page Plus is a good InDesign clone that won’t break the bank. They have a new line called Affinity, with Photoshop and Illustrator clones, but I can’t remember off the top of my head if the page layout tool is out of beta yet.

–Ben


(Stefan Struck) #4

Yes, agreed. Pictures without additional packages is just too painful but the template did some great stuff, so I hope this will work out.


(Stefan Struck) #5

Thanks for the tip, will check out Page Plus. I shy away from learning another tool and from having the same content in different tools. I already uhse PSE for Pictures and don’t need Illustrator.

… and BTW: LaTex is a tool designed to write books / articles and let them look good :wink:


(sythmaster) #6

I didn’t know about that package, thanks for linking!

Like you, LaTeX was my go to for document stuff (still is in most cases). I actually did my first draft of my FitD game’s character sheets with LaTeX, but when I showed them to people the “O dear god, what have you done” seemed appropriate after a while and I’ve slowly moved over to Scribus (cause of the ‘its free’ thing as you mentioned)

I’d caution about LaTeX in the sense of if you aren’t comfortable creating your own stylesheets yet to maybe look at other options? (My ‘text’ is more or less in a huge Google Doc at this point).

While tables are annoying, getting images and setting up margins and header/footer/side-of-page images and banners sound… not fun to me in the LateX .sty world of things.

That being said, its all about comfortability right? Text is, relatively speaking, fairly portable from filetype to filetype. Tables though, can be a bit trickier. I dont know how the package you linked changed things with tables, but the tabularx package has done well for me in most of my LaTeX needs.

Cheers and godspeed!

Edit: For Posterity, this is what my latex char sheet looked like and I started with the cheatsheet template from https://github.com/cmichi/latex-template-collection.


(Stefan Struck) #7

Thanks for the insight! Much appreciated.
No pain, no gain, right? So I’m more than willing to create my own stylesheets, maybe that’s the programmers creed DRY or something, I don’t know.
Thanks for sharing the charactersheets. Not sure if I go there for latex as well. Part of me want’s to (one tool to rule them all) part of me wants to stick with photoshop-cool-looking. Not decided, yet, we’ll see.
I think that deep inside I want to re-activate those latex knowhow and build new/better knowhow on top of it. We’ll see how this will work out.


(sythmaster) #8

Yeah, its a mix of “choose the BS you want to deal with” for programming/programmers the LaTeX BS seems way more do-able in our wheelhouse than some of the weird/odd crap people who use WYSIWYG’s or InDesign/Scribus what now.

I’ll say, it took me a good year to become comfortable enough to like not want to throw my monitor any time Scribus did a thing I didn’t intend it to do. So… sharp learning curve on that tool. Oof. :expressionless:

“Choose your Poison” when it comes to design right? haha. And you have a developed tolerance w/ Latex! :stuck_out_tongue:

GL w/ the designs and the book!


(Andrew Montgomery) #9

I’m also using LaTeX (or attempting to) but I’ve no prior experience with it at all. The last time I did any layout was for a 96 page A4 RPG sourcebook, which I did in Scribus, and it was a nightmare. I’m a programmer by trade, so LaTeX feels like it is what I want - I just need to learn how to actually bend it to my will.

Half my problem is not knowing what I don’t know, so it’s hard to figure out the right questions to even ask when I want to achieve a certain result. I’m focusing on the actual writing for the time being and will think about the more difficult aspects of my layout when that is more complete.

I did port the existing markdown SRD material to LaTeX though over at https://github.com/amazingrando/blades-in-the-dark-srd-content - so you may find that marginally helpful if you don’t want to rewrite all the existing content yourself.

Let me know how it goes, I’m very interested to hear how other people are solving problems I will very likely come up against myself soon enough :smiley:


(Stefan Struck) #10

@darkliquid Having a programmer’s mindset is a good starting point when using LaTex, so I hope this is going well on your side.
Maybe/Surely I should just stop writing and trying and making and first read one of the available books to refresh and expand my know how. This helps a lot, even if it feels unproductive. Hear to learn, so this may work out.
Thanks for the interest and if you have questions maybe I can help you with it.


(sythmaster) #11

Over the years, the Latex Wikibook has been a godsend for me when I get confused about stuff in LaTeX. I figured I’d link it as there’s a plethora of advice out there that has varying qualities of helpfulness, lol.

Cheers and gl on your projects!


(Oli Jeffery) #12

I’m writing my book just in a text editor (sublime, specifically), because it’s the most distraction free. When it comes time to design it, I’ll export my MD files to xml and import them into InDesign.

I’m lucky enough to have access to InDesign and the skills to use it, but as someone who’s done a bit of RPG layout for others (Dust, Fog and Glowing Embers, Legacy: Life Among the Ruins 2nd ed, Codex), I will say this: hire someone with access to InDesign and the skills to use it when it comes time to move beyond just text - and I’m not currently for hire, so I have no skin in this.

RPG layout is haaaaard. Good RPG layout is reaaaally hard. Unless you’re a graphic designer at heart, don’t try and do it yourself. You’ll stress yourself out and it won’t look as good as it could have.

Jake Householder and Jesse Ross are both fabulous.


(Michael Docherty) #13

What’s the advantage of using Markdown vs importing a Word document into InDesign?


(Oli Jeffery) #14

You can auto assign styles, so it’s already formatted as soon as you enter it.


(Oli Jeffery) #15

Technically you have to export to xml first and import that, and docx files are a type of XML so you may be able to do that also, but Word XML files come with a bunch of extra gunk that I assume would mess it up.


(John) #16

Not to try and change your mind but there are some pretty easy fixes for what you lost as the main issues with Word. It takes work and some study and discipline (especially understanding the difference between paragraph styles and character styles and being strict around not using a character style when you should be creating and using a paragraph style) - but you’re already commiting to that study and discipline for Latex.


(Stefan Struck) #17

Yes, true. It’s always the question of commitment to learn a tool seriously or not. It’s just that Latex feels a bit better right now than word. Good tools both of them.


(John) #18

Good luck. Interested to see the result when it’s ready. :slight_smile:


(Stefan Struck) #19

Just a quick note that I’m still working on it using LaTex. I make very slow progress not because of the tool or difficulties with it but because I’m a working dad and I play way too much Sekrio right now. I will show some examples, hopefully soon.


#20

Would you be willing to share character sheet template?