I recently discovered LaTeX, a typesetting program, while searching for book templates for Microsoft Word. I began writing a retrocomputing book on the Commodore 64 using Word, but had a hard time formatting the text exactly like I wanted. I search for various templates and even considered switching to a desktop publishing program, but nothing seemed to work.
I found a few articles on LaTeX. The Wikipedia definition is:
LATEX ( //, //, //, or //) is a document markup language and document preparation system for the TEXtypesetting program. Within the typesetting system, its name is styled as . The term LATEX refers only to the language in which documents are written, not to the editor used to write those documents. In order to create a document in LATEX, a .tex file must be created using some form of text editor. While most text editors can be used to create a LATEX document, a number of editors have been created specifically for working with LATEX.
LATEX is widely used in academia. As a primary or intermediate format, e.g., translating DocBook and other XML-based formats toPDF, LATEX is used because of the high quality of typesetting achievable by TEX. The typesetting system offers programmable desktop publishing features and extensive facilities for automating most aspects of typesetting and desktop publishing, including numbering and cross-referencing, tables and figures, page layout and bibliographies.
LATEX is intended to provide a high-level language that accesses the power of TEX. LATEX essentially comprises a collection of TEXmacros and a program to process LATEX documents. Because the TEX formatting commands are very low-level, it is usually much simpler for end-users to use LATEX.
LATEX was originally written in the early 1980s by Leslie Lamport at SRI International. It has become an important method for using TEX. The current version is LATEX2e (styled ).
As it is distributed under the terms of the LATEX Project Public License (LPPL), LATEX is free software.
This turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. In a single lunch hour, I was able to produce a document in LaTeX formatted very similarly to what I wanted.
The official website for LaTeX is here:
LaTeX is a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting. It is most often used for medium-to-large technical or scientific documents but it can be used for almost any form of publishing.
LaTeX is not a word processor! Instead, LaTeX encourages authors not to worry too much about the appearance of their documents but to concentrate on getting the right content.
Here are some chapter style examples from the Memoir Class (a package available for LaTeX):
The learning curve is a bit steep for LaTeX (at least for me). I’d liken it to learning HTML. You could learn the basics pretty quickly, but to be good at it will take some time and effort. For me, this effort is worth it because the LaTeX system 1) produces professional-quality documents and 2) allows me to focus on writing rather than messing around with the formatting (a pitfall for procrastinators like me). I’ve decided to move forward with my book using LaTeX.
There are some other attractive aspects to this system:
1. LaTeX is available in a Mac distribution called MacTeX. MacTeX contains (from the MacTeX Wiki):
MacTeX is the official release of the MacTeX Technical Working Group. A very Mac-like installation using the Apple installer, so the installation process will be very familiar to Mac users.
MacTeX includes the most recent official standard distribution of TeX Live (the modern TeX distribution standard of TUG) for the Mac, a front end, documentation and extras.
MacTeX 2010 was released 2010-09-08 and is approximately 1.6Gb  .
MacTeX 2008 was released 2008-09-01 and includes:
- the convert utility from ImageMagick
- selected GUI Applications including:
- installer for Perl/Tk, needed to enable the GUI interface for the TeX Live Manager
- TeX Live
fonts in formats suitable for system-wide use:
- See also MacTeXtras
2. Scrivener will export to LaTeX. Scrivener is a Mac-based writing program (now also available for Windows). http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php?show=features
Scrivener is payware, but it’s a paltry $45 (US) for an excellent software program. (And no, I’m not a compensated endorser for Scrivener — it’s just something I have found useful).
Below is from the Literature and Latte website (the creators/sellers of Scrivener) and shows some of the features of Scrivener…
Who said WYSIWYG is always best?
Tools for Writing Non-Fiction
Watch the MathType video ●
Draft the next blockbuster
Statistics and Targets
Watch the video ●
I’ve used Scrivner to author several short stories and I’m using it for my novel. Now, I can use it to write my retro book also.
Within Scrivener, some of the formatting for LaTeX can be passed via Multimarkdown.
The Multimarkdown website at http://fletcherpenney.net/multimarkdown/ defines it as:
What is MultiMarkdown?
MultiMarkdown, or MMD, is a tool to help turn minimally marked-up plain text into well formatted documents, including HTML, PDF (by way of LaTeX),OPML, or OpenDocument (specifically, Flat OpenDocument or ‘.fodt’, which can in turn be converted into RTF, Microsoft Word, or virtually any other word-processing format).
MMD is a superset of the Markdown syntax, originally created by John Gruber. It adds multiple syntax features (tables, footnotes, and citations, to name a few), in addition to the various output formats listed above (Markdown only creates HTML). Additionally, it builds in “smart” typography for various languages (proper left- and right-sided quotes, for example).
3. LaTeX is free.
Although Scrivener is payware, everything else I mentioned here is free — LaTeX (MacTeX distribution) and MMD3 (Scrivener ships with MMD2, but MMD3 can be installed so that Scrivener “sees” it).
I plan to document my journey into learning LaTeX / MMD / Scrivener as I write my book. So far, I’ve been really pleased with the results I’ve obtained with the workflow, but it will be some time before I really learn how to use LaTeX to its fullest and ultimately format my book with it.
More to follow…