Writing a technical book, structuring first then layout later possible?

I want to write a Technical Book that eventually should go to Lulu.com for publishing, so I have to stick to certain strict rules about page sizes and layout.

I'm currently looking for a way to focus on the Writing and do the layout later. Essentially, I want to do some basic formatting like "header", "paragraph", "code", "bold", "image", but don't worry about the concept of Pages just yet.

When I'm done with the Content I want to layout the content by adding page breaks, auto-generated table of content, page layout (Margins, Gutter, Page Size,...). I also want a standard format that all books are following (the first few boilerplate pages in any book), so reusable templates would come in handy.

Essentially something that's usually Microsoft Word's domain, except that Word isn't very trustworthy and loves to randomly break stuff. Also, I want a PDF output.

I've never worked with TeX before, but it's layout capabilities are legendary, I just wonder if it's the right tool for my need? Take structured content, format it, make revisions to the content without having to do tons of re-layout, output a PDF (PDF 1.3 standard, embedded fonts)?

Or am I better off with something like DocBook XML or -gulp- Microsoft Word?

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I've updated my answer to reflect some of your requests regarding page sizes and layouts. –  Werner Sep 2 '11 at 3:51

I would consider (La)TeX to be ideally suited for exactly the purpose you mention. It is definitely flexible in the sense that you can follow a very basic approach of typesetting simple elements (you mention paragraphs and figures), and tweaking the layout at a later stage (table of contents, margins, stock-size). The latter is typically obtained via the addition of packages in your document preamble that enriches the document's content.

Perhaps, as a start of why to choose (La)TeX above other alternatives, you could read the CTAN: What are TeX, LaTeX, and friends? entry. Listed there you'll see the "reasons most often cited for using TeX, [which may be] grouped into four areas: Output Quality, Superior Engineering, Freedom, and Popularity."

Even if your eventual output is void of mathematics, the output and layout (in my opinion as well as yours) is "legendary". Perhaps, just to start you off of seeing what is possible, consider reading up on the memoir documentclass by reading the documentation. Others will definitely suggest other styles and flavours, giving credit to the flexibility across many platforms. memoir also provides sufficient functionality to mould the page sizes and layout in order to "stick to certain strict [publishing] rules". However, other options also exist by means of the geometry package. Consider reading the package documentation - it provides a rich mean of configuring your paper stock, trimming margins, text block, headers, footers, etc.

From a very basic point of view, your document would have the following structure:

\documentclass{book}% or \documentclass{memoir}
%<preamble filled with packages and other goodies>
\begin{document}
%<your future lulu.com masterpiece>
\end{document}


Like anything, you'll have to get used to the way things work in (La)TeX, just like you originally did when you fiddled with typesetting in MS Word. But there is a multitude of resources out there to help (from this Q&A to the comp.text.tex forum, to the CTAN). Also consider, as a taste test of some future possibilities, viewing the TeX Showcase.

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Thanks, those links were VERY helpful, I got my first Document draft up and running without having too much crazy TeX markup in there. –  Michael Stum Sep 2 '11 at 5:40
+1 for reading the package documentation. Don't be intimidated by long manuals: at least half of the pages are in most cases the implementation (which doesn't matter for you). You might also want to break a larger document (like a book) into several subfiles and include them via the \input{} command. My approach is one .tex file per chapter. –  0x6d64 Sep 2 '11 at 7:24
@0x6d64 -- i'm surprised you didn't suggest \include{} rather than (or in addition to) \input{}. both have their places, but \include gives extra benefits when it's used to control chapters in separate files. –  barbara beeton Sep 2 '11 at 13:03
Since I don't know either include nor input, linking to this question for other people that don't know :) tex.stackexchange.com/questions/246 - The forced page break seems to be the #1 reason to use include? –  Michael Stum Sep 2 '11 at 18:19
@Michael: Especially if your document is a book, you could use the \include for each chapter, since the forced page break coincides with \chapter's \cleardoublepage typesetting. –  Werner Sep 2 '11 at 18:25

There's every reason to expect that you'll succeed brilliantly with LaTeX in your endeavor to get your planned book published. Focusing on the content is certainly always an excellent strategy. As you write various chapters, try to separate decisions over content from decisions about how the content may/should be formatted. That said, I wonder if you wouldn't be well served to set aside some time -- preferably reasonably early on in the process -- to settle on some key parameters such as the size (height and width) of the text block on a page; without that information, it's going to be nearly impossible, for instance, to go about developing at least a rough idea of how material in tables and figures should be organized. To give an example: whether the text block is going to be 3 inches or 5 inches wide, and 6 inches or 8 inches tall, is going to have a huge effect on the design of tables, and it's important to nail these details down early or else you're going to be spending significant time later on revising these materials in order to make them fit better on a page.

I was once in charge of organizing and editing a conference proceedings volume, and I was fortunate to have a couple of meetings with our in-house book designer. She gave me a lot of freedom over how big the pages and the text block on a page might be, but she nevertheless made me make these decisions early on. It was an amazing, eye-opening experience to have to think about these and other parameters early on in the process of getting the entire volume typeset. For instance, it forced me to be consistent in my approach to arranging the tabular materials in the various chapters of the book (contributed by various authors).

In your case, some decisions (such as the size of the page) seem already to have been made, which is great, but other key decisions may need to be made fairly soon. For more information on the design of books, I heartily recommend the document "A Few Notes on Book Design" by Peter Wilson, available on the CTAN at http://www.ctan.org/tex-archive/info/memdesign/memdesign.pdf. The companion publication, "The Memoir Class," available at http://www.ctan.org/tex-archive/macros/latex/contrib/memoir/memman.pdf, is the user guide to the memoir document class, which greatly facilitates writing complete, print-ready documents. While it is possible for seasoned LaTeX experts to manually assemble all the packages which, taken together, constitute the memoir document class, while sticking with LaTeX's basic "book" document class, I can't see a reason for doing so.

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