Considering the fact that LaTeX has extraordinary typesetting capabilities, you would think that some publishers of novels would use it. Yet most of those I have checked out seem to use InDesign or a similar program. Does anyone have an impression of whether some do use LaTeX, and about how common it is?

A side question is whether LaTeX would be useful for the purpose at all.


7 Answers 7


Though I would like to praise TeX even for fixing the world hunger, things are not so smooth when it comes to publishing professionally.

There is this fact:

You can create any document with absolutely all kinds of quirks (except grid typesetting) with TeX.

Now this is the technical part of the story, many invoke that TeX is Turing complete and it is so but it is also what I call Schmuring complete. That is to say, some stuff is ridiculously time-consuming with TeX, not because you don't know enough TeX but because it is designed that way. Say you want a special ornament on a poetry book or anything that involves a bit of freehand artistry, these are quite difficult to get it just-right.

And there is a completely orthogonal problem to this story. That is publishing editors are not techies. They are mostly graphic designers, typography experts etc. They are not necessarily fans of TeX mostly because of the long historical modjo of TeX being the math thingy. So when you look at how these people work you wouldn't really consider a person opening emacs and going ten finger Ctrl-Alt-Metal!! all over the place.

If you allow me for a mild stereotyping, we are talking about both authors and copy editors, people who are ordering a coffee in Starbucks that takes 10 minutes to specify the ingredients and getting pissed off when the waiter confuses half way. So these people mostly from the intelligencia, as is with the academic people, have a lot of pre-(mis)-conceptions. They have to use a Mac because it is expensive (hehe ok I mean it is associated with desktop publishing in those circles). And as is with the academic world, they look up to famous authors and alike (rusty typewriters, cigarette butts filled ashtray bla bla.) Programming a novel is not and will not be appealing to these people unless there is a significant benefit.

On the other hand, the hip thing is to combine everything under Adobe suite and use InDesign and Photoshop, Illustrator for special effects and other parts all at once. To be honest, it really does feel like a complete suite. If you know how to use all of those stuff.

What I never understand is why these people don't write directly into InDesign. It is equally challenging to get things right.

So long story short, yes it is certainly possible but professional publishing requires working with publishers who are aliens to TeX. So if you have professional concerns about all the aspects (advertisement, marketing etc.), you would (and should) comply with their workflow.

That doesn't mean TeX won't be useful. IF you are an avid typesetter, you can definitely, create something that even they would be happy to send it to the printer.

  • 4
    Most novels have relatively simply design requirements, so I'm not sure a lot of TeX programming would be required at the typesetting end. (I'd assume that as with technical docs their are different people doing the editorial and typesetting tasks in any case.)
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 7:49
  • @JosephWright wrapfig, marginpar and many more are single buttons in those tools. I'm not implying TeX shouldn't be used I'm trying to draw attention to the reason why it is not likely to be used. Personally, I would definitely go for TeX should I ever have the talent to write one. And I think I've mistakenly used copy-editor and editor interchangably.
    – percusse
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 7:56
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    @percusse Most novels, at least those I've read, have no figures, notes, etc.: they are just runs of text, perhaps with chapters. As such, a lot of novels look easier as typesetting exercises than more technical documents do. Of course, there are novels with footnotes, endnotes, figures and so on, but I'd say these features are less common in novels than in other texts.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 8:42
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    Damn those snob editors sitting in Starbucks spilling their lattes over expensive Macbooks just because the barista wrote their names with bad kerning. ♥ Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 9:41
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    I know you're being playful, but the answer would be stronger without the (more than) "mild stereotyping." Someone aspiring to write a novel will have to deal with people, and those people are worthy of respect. Let's not further the equally bad stereotype that TeX people are unkind to people who prefer different tools. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 14:11

If you read the instructions for manuscript preparation in The Chicago Manual of Style (which are like those for many publishers), they are emphatic that they want the plainest source document you can provide them. "We want your keystrokes," it says, not your formatting.

In the case of the University of Chicago Press, the publisher will convert the file to XML according to their own system, but writing in LaTeX, if you are careful, can be a good way to prepare a document that can be easily converted.

If you intend to submit to a publisher, I would recommend that you find a way to produce a clean, simple text with a minimum of formatting. LaTeX can be ideal for this purpose because you will produce a plain-text source file, which you can mark up with only a few simple commands.

If you keep it very simple and completely semantic (think about what the text is, not how it should look), it should not be too hard for you to convert it to whatever format a publisher prefers. (E.g., using tex4ht or pandoc). Or it would not be too difficult to use search-and-replace methods to replace your markup with whatever the publisher uses.

Here is an example of how you might write the beginning of Little Women in LaTeX, using minimal markup.

You can import your own preamble or style file so that you can print a nice copy for yourself. I think the nice-looking result shown below, made with only a few customizations, answers your second question: yes, publishers should use LaTeX.

  % Together babel and csquotes will allow you to type quotes semantically,  
  % but will print them in the normal style for your locale.
  % This could save copy editors time replacing ``word'', with “word,” (for example)

\newcommand{\WorkTitle}{\emph} % e.g., book title
   % example of a semantic command you can define

  % If you want, put all your fancy formatting in a separate `.tex` file or package


Playing Pilgrims
% Keep the plain text on a separate line from the markup when you can 
% (easier to separate it later)

\enquote{Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents}, grumbled Jo, 
lying on the rug.

\enquote{It's so dreadful to be poor!} sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress. \dots

Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone,---

\enquote{You know the reason mother proposed not having any presents 
 this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for every one} \dots.

\enquote{I agreed not to expect anything from mother or you, 
but I do want to buy \WorkTitle{Undine and Sintram} for myself; 
I've wanted it \emph{so} long}, said Jo, who was a bookworm.


And here's an example myfancypreamble.tex for your personal draft.


This is the result:

enter image description here


Yes, it's possible, and yes, it would possibly even save the publishers significant amounts of money, but they appear to be largely unaware that TeX can be used as a general-purpose typesetter.

  • 7
    It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 2:07


Layout / format option for this in Memoir --- the design which I worked up for Mike Brotherton's Stardragon: http://www.mikebrotherton.com/2005/04/20/new-star-dragon-pdf/ The actual file is here: http://www.mikebrotherton.com/novels/stardragon.pdf




Should you use LaTeX? With Indesign you have a blank slate. You can make any decision you want with respect to layout, design and typography. For most people, that is the problem. There are reasons why books have developed design conventions. Since the days of the incunabula, publishers have been dealing with and solving these problems. So too, has Donald Knuth and the many package creators who have read Binghurst, Tischold and are familiar with the intricacies of design. It is important to remember that the purpose of LaTeX, in Knuth's words, is to "create beautiful books." Isn't that the point? When you use LaTeX, even if you just use the basic document classes with little ornament, you will get a better-looking document more consistently by design than you might stumble into while using Indesign, Scribus or another typesetting program. The reason is because when you use LaTeX you stand on the shoulders of giants.

It may be that there are libraries of well-documented InDesign templates that similarly take into account important design decisions. If so, they are hidden or proprietary. I've found a few, but it's nothing like what is available for LaTex.

TL%DR: With LaTeX you don't have to reinvent the wheel.

  • 8
    Don't underestimate the aesthetics judgement and power of non-TeX publishers. Consistent and algorithmic doesn't imply beautiful. A creative person is creative with any tool. Books are not limited to yellow Springers.
    – percusse
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 7:11
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    Some people would argue that one of LaTeX's problems is that it 'does stuff for you' (plain TeX users in particular find this irritating, for example).
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 7:50
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    Since many LaTeX designs are based on traditional typography, I find this argument singularly unconvincing. Read the documentation of Koma or Memoir, for example, and you find that they are implementing traditional typographic designs developed long before LaTeX was available to assist their developers.
    – cfr
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 2:49
  • Which argument? Mine? You repeat my point.
    – user26732
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 19:03

Definitely, yes, by all means, use LaTeX.

Not all publishers will agree to this because they do not want to invest the time to produce typographically good documents. I suspect some publishers of high quality books must be using a typesetting system – but that is a small minority of $100+ academically commented novels –, the rest use publishing software at best, and word processors in the worst case.

The good news is, your novel is very easy to convert from LaTeX to you-name-it. Simply add a something like:

\pagestyle{empty}% Remove all line numbers, headers, etc.
\raggedright% Do not justify lines, and do not hyphenate words

Then you can copy-paste the entire PDF document (with the typesetting) and just remove the spurious line-breaks (or leave them for the publisher to remove). There will be a bit of editing to do, but you can write painlessly and worry about that later.

It is a bit trickier with academic documents where you have footnotes to deal with – but I would take the extra pain of doing it, just because LaTeX does a much better job than I do at writing up bibliographies and indexes.

  • 4
    I think if I wanted to convert TeX to non-TeX, I would probably apply some algorithm to the code instead.
    – Gaussler
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 8:07
  • It is definitely possible – the simpler the document, the simpler the algorithm.
    – ienissei
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 10:41

This is too long for a comment, so I decided to provide an (opinion-based) answer

The question itself is basically too broad and provokes such answers.

On the other hand, one should ask people having published novels using TeX (LaTeX etc. you know of the huge varieties then) -- I know personally none of such authors.

What are the requirements of a novel (fiction) book? Do you we need the whole bunch what TeX provides for this? I would say: No.

  • Chapters/ToC can be made easily with TeX --> this requirement is fulfilled
  • Graphics (as illustrations, most common in books for children) can be included by TeX
  • Different fonts and faces to make some eye-appealing look are available with TeX
  • Using the correct encoding it's possible to write text out of the box without strange \" etc. commands like in older times --> This is possible with TeX too.

So I would say: Yes, it's possible to write novels with TeX

  • Typeset novels, sure. As for writing them, Tex (or LaTeX or XeLaTeX...) are typesetting engines and you would have to use a text editor, or Lyx, or some kind of a front-end. Which front end is purely a matter of personal preference and is irrelevant to the question of whether Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign do a better job of typesetting.
    – user26732
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 19:06
  • @user26732: ???
    – user31729
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 19:09
  • That is, Tex/LaTeX is a typesetting tool, not a writing tool.
    – user26732
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 19:15
  • @user26732: I know of this difference of course, you need an editor ;-)
    – user31729
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 9:18
  • I don't know what you are referring to.
    – user26732
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 18:57

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