[texhax] Designing books with LaTeX

George N. White III gnwiii at gmail.com
Sat Jun 7 18:16:12 CEST 2008

On Wed, 4 Jun 2008, Stacy Claxton wrote:

> To Whom It May Concern:
> I am familiar with LaTeX and have used it in the past to enter data and
> equations into a mathematical textbook. I have now been asked to create a
> design for a book. I know this involves using classes and packages, but I am
> not familiar with these. I have searched online documentation and have found
> vague references to designing your own class, usually with only some caution
> that it "is not a straightforward task, and is often best left to the
> professionals" or "typically involves a lot of work that is essentially
> programming and thus does not live easily with the declarative kind of
> design specification for a document (or range of documents) that would be
> produced by a professional typographic designer" or "although some
> parameters can be adjusted within a predefined document layout, the design
> of a whole new layout is difficult and takes a lot of time" (there's a
> footnote here suggesting that this is being addressed in the LaTeX3
> system?).

I have some experience with this.  There are two parts to your problem:

1.  the design itself.  I gather you may already have some ideas for this, 
e.g., some change relative to a previous project.  It is very helpful if 
you can describe your goals in terms of "like this widely available book 
(so others can see what you mean), but with the following changes..."
If you post this information, you may learn that some of the elements
in your design are problematic -- you can only hope that someone 
can suggest a compromise or workaround.

2.  implementing the design (e.g., in LaTeX).  As you probably realize,
the book class in the LaTeX base package is not a good example and is
not parameterized in way that gives a designer adequate flexibility.
Others have mentioned the memoir class, which is vastly more flexible,
but may still have limitations that are best overcome using a new class,
or even some other TeX system such as ConTeXt.

> ..  This does not sound promising. I am a typesetter (I work in
> publishing and am very familiar with Quark and InDesign) but have no
> experience with design in LaTeX. Nor do I have extensive programming
> experience. How difficult would it be to learn how to use classes and
> packages to come up with a design? And how would I go about learning how to
> do this? Any feedback or suggested resources would be greatly appreciated.

The first thing to realize is that LaTeX markup is designed to describe 
the logical structure of a document -- some people with backgrounds 
similar to yours find it difficult to get past the tendency to mix design 
and structure in the markup, e.g., things like:

\section*{\sectionfont{X-Z -- Foo}}

\subsection*{\subsectionfont{X-Z.1 -- Bar}}

rather than adjust the style to use the desired number scheme and fonts.
Some projects just don't have the logical structure found in conventional
technical material (e.g., a different design for every chapter -- imagine 
a book on design in which each chapter illustrates a different approach) 
so you don't get the benefits of logical markup.

First focus on the design itself.  They try to implement it following
the suggestions you get here.  When you encounter a problem that you
can't solve with the manuals and google, post it here and hope someone
offers a solution.

George N. White III  <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca>

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