I would like to typeset a poem book, which I am planning to print then stitch and bind manually. My requirements are:

  • The book should be printed on A4 paper, with two A5 pages on each side.
  • It should be possible to set desired signature thickness (i.e. number of bifolios or leafs in each section)
  • Small markings should be present in the middle of the innermost section bifolio for guiding the needles (and only there)
  • Some configuration of markings can be chosen, or one can set desired distances or spacing beetween markings
  • According to set section thickness, the pages will be in the reqired order. If the thickness is 2: 1. bifolio: leafs 1 and 8 on one side, leafs 2,7 on other; 2. bifolio: leafs 3,6 on one side, leafs 4,5 on the other (needle markings on the side containing leafs 4 and 5)
  • some form of centering or manually shifting each poem's left margin should be present
  • lettrine package capabilites within poems

I should probably write my own package to fulfill all of my requirements. Additional requirement for such a package would be:

  • if possible, the package should be easily extended to any type of humanities books, not just poem books (for the same purpose of printing and manually binding)

I found verse to be simple and nice, but lettrine breaks inside verse.

I also would also like to have the options of poemscol to automatically generate a table of contents, an index of titles, and mark occasions when a stanza break falls at a page break. On the other hand, poemscol seems overly complex for my needs and also seems to be best suited for the particular purpose of typesetting critical editions.

I am providing images of some poems books which seemed nice to me:

Poem book example 1

Poem book example 2

Poem book example 3

I am also uploading a screenshot of InDesign pdf output:

InDesign output

I don't know any low level TeX commands. Where to start? What can be done (or, what can be without much pain)? What cannot be done (or, what can't be done without too much pain and effort)?

Pgfpages package seems to solve section/bifolio problems.

This question is important to me, and also seems quite complex. Therefore, I will be offering a bounty.

  • As promised, I opened a bounty, and gave half of my reputation. I am hoping for some useful commented snippets of code, general outlines to solving my problem, or step-by-step plans on how to satisfy my requirements.
    – ipavlic
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 14:27
  • I'm quite unfamiliar with actual book printing, so these may be stupid questions. Are you using signature and leaf correctly? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bookbinding#Terms_and_techniques makes me think you mean section and bifolio since you specified that you want 1 A4 page (a bifolio) consisting of 2 A5 pages (the leaves). In your InDesign example, are the recto and verso swapped or is that actually the order you want things? Finally, would you be happy with a plain TeX solution? Maybe there's a LaTeX or ConTeXt package that does what you want, but I suspect that OTR hacking is required.
    – TH.
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 16:17
  • Yes, you are right. Leaf should have been bifolio, and signature should have been section, according to that article. I would be happy with any solution, but not as much as with LaTeX one :). I believe I manually exported pages that I wanted, in the order I wanted from InDesign -- I was hoping for the automated solution that gives the order I explained in one of the points.
    – ipavlic
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 12:34
  • This seems like an awful lot of different questions you're asking...
    – Seamus
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 12:43
  • It just seems odd that page 1 would be on the left. I don't think I've ever seen that before.
    – TH.
    Commented Mar 2, 2011 at 5:14

4 Answers 4


For your serious imposition needs, perhaps PDFtk could do the trick? Also, some higher-end printers support imposition, as I'm sure acrobat does (should you have access to it, or acrobat.com). The context wiki points to PDFjam for doing complicated impostion: http://freshmeat.net/projects/pdfjam/ or context supports a bunch of stuff out of the box: http://wiki.contextgarden.net/Imposition such as:

ConTeXt has some built-in imposition schemas (see "arranging pages" in the manual):

2UP : 2 pages next to each other, n sheets arranged for a single booklet
2DOWN : 2 pages above each other, n sheets arranged for a single booklet
2SIDE : 2 pages per form, side by side in pagination order, single sided only (no real imposition, only paper saving)
2TOP : 2 pages above each other, single sided only
2TOPSIDE: 2 odd pages on one side, two even pages verso, above each other
2*2 : section: one sheet 2 x 2 pages = 4 pages (2 pages per form, for single sheets with front and back)
2**2 : section: one sheet 2 x 2 pages = 4 pages (2 pages per form, for book ordering)
2*4 : section: one sheet 2 x 4 pages = 8 pages (4 pages per form, 2x2 pages head to head)
2*8 : section: one sheet 2 x 8 pages = 16 pages
2*16 : section: one sheet 2 x 16 pages = 32 pages
2*4*2 : section of 16 pages: 2 sheets, 4 pages front and backside
2*2*4 : section of 16 pages: 4 sheets, 2 pages front and backside
XY : one sheet with x rows and y columns, you can control the number with \setuppaper[nx=...,ny=...,dx=...,dy=...]

For LaTeX, consider using the memoir package. The memoir manual is a great document, and explains a lot of page layout (and is good even if you are not using tex). It has a dedicated environment for poems. I have some code at home that I can post here later. The only problem I've had with LaTeX is getting PDF/X compliance for print on demand stuff. The manual has other good examples.

An example with memoir :


\normalfont\scshape\flushleft% Remove centering from poem title
\hspace*{0.5\linewidth}\hspace*{-0.5\versewidth}}% Makes poem title flush left with body block.

\setlength{\afterPoemTitleskip}{0.7\onelineskip}% Changes the vertical space between the poem title and poem body

\title{A Collection of Fancy Poems}
\author{Some Guy}





\settowidth{\versewidth}{The longest line of your poem}
first line
second line
third line fourth line
The longest line of your poem
and more and more and more 
and more

For ConTeXt, set an environment and use the [spaces=yes] option. ConTeXt easily provides the PDF/X compliance, as well as doing imposition (http://wiki.contextgarden.net/Imposition).

An example with ConTeXt

% PDF-X is this easy...
  [title=Some Title,
   subtitle=A Collection of Poems,
   author=Some guy,
   keyword=[{poetry, los angeles}]

\setuphead[PoemTitle][number=no, page=yes]


\PoemTitle{A Great Poem Title}
My      Poem Looks    Like this
and it's    kind of silly when
have to           read it
  • There is the pdfx package for latex PDF/X output, but it does have some pretty serious problems (for example, it won't work unmodified in the western hemisphere).
    – Lev Bishop
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 16:35
  • I've given the PDF/X package a try about five or six times. I'm not sure if I don't know enough, or if the package just doesn't work well, but I was never able to get it to work at all. On top of that, PDF/X compliance in context is sooooooooo easy. :P
    – Mica
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 21:07
  • 1
    Note that the general typography considerations have been split from the memoir manual into a separate document (I don't recall exactly when, but at least in the manual which is in TL2010). "texdoc memdesign" provides the document, which is also at ctan.org/tex-archive/info/memdesign.
    – Villemoes
    Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 8:23
  • @Villemooes I had not seen that document yet. I am going to print it tomorrow and read it. Thanks for the link!
    – Mica
    Commented Mar 2, 2011 at 3:32
  • I find your answer to be the most useful one, and have decided to award it. I have not found what I was looking for, but will keep trying with simpler questions. Thanks!
    – ipavlic
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 12:45

You should take a close look at the octavo class.

  • I appreciate you answer. Octavo class does need some manual adjusting, and even after that does not provide all of my requirements. Still, it is a step in the right direction.
    – ipavlic
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 12:43
  • 2
    @ipavlic You will need to start from somewhere. What you are asking is probably not available off the shelf. Suggest you try and re-phrase the areas they need improvements and will try and assist.
    – yannisl
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 16:09
  • 1
    I was not hoping for an off the shelf solution. I merely asked for guidance on where to start (with learning or fulfilling specific requirements), what can be and what cannot be done. I think your answer would be more helpful if you had written why should I look at the octavo class, what can or cannot be done with it. I've done that myself, no problem. But senior LaTeX users might try understanding novices' situation -- we are aware of our requirements, but due to our inexperience, sometimes do not know how or what to ask.
    – ipavlic
    Commented Mar 2, 2011 at 12:22

This is not a complete answer at all; I just want to stress that organizing the pages as you want inside TeX or LaTeX might not be the right way to proceed, because you would have an unusable electronic version.

For this matter, you can produce a standard (a5paper say) ps file from LaTeX, then use the command pstops. For example,

pstops "12:11L(29.7cm,0)+0L(29.7cm,14.85cm),10R(-8.7cm,14.85cm)
+5R(-8.7cm,29.7cm)" toto.ps toto2.ps

(in one line) where toto.ps is an a5 paper file, will divide the pages by bundles of 12 (numbered from 0 to 11), and output an a4-paper-file toto2.ps containing six pages for each bundle, containing respectively pages 11 (on the left) and 0 (on the right), pages 10 and 1, pages 9 and 2, and so forth. Then a double side printing gives you the three sheets you can fold to get a 12-pages-booklet. One problem is that you may need to adjust the translation values like (-8.7cm,14.85cm) according to the margins of toto.ps. The pstops command is described for example here: http://gershwin.ens.fr/vdaniel/Doc-Locale/Outils-Gnu-Linux/PsUtils/pstops.html

Your other questions are out of my league, I guess.

  • Thank you, I will look into it. However, I do not want to organize pages in that manner inside (La)TeX. I just want the pdf output to be appropriate.
    – ipavlic
    Commented Feb 23, 2011 at 16:28
  • I remember doing that kind of page reordering using pdftk. Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 1:20

I am not sure I understand the difficulty - I propose cutting this Gordian knot!

I once did a similar project, and did not bother with LaTeX page setup at all. I kept on to the usual A4 page size, and asked LaTeX to produce a dvi, which I then converted to PostScript.

The next step was to apply a PostScript page reorganization and scaling utility, which can do all you want and more. What I used is pstops. I believe it can do all you want.

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