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TeX for Typesetting

We've written that after the copyediting process of Rosette Dramatic LARP, we'd start typesetting using a document processing system called ConTeXt.

What is typesetting and why are we using something other than Google Docs or Microsoft Word to do it?

"Typesetting" is the process of laying out a book for printing (or e-book publishing). This is when you choose your final fonts, heading styles, column widths, and page margins. It's when you insert images/graphics, book ornaments, a table of contents, and an index.

Why Not Docs/Word?

Doing advanced layout in MS Word is extraordinarily frustrating. You get your margins right on your body pages, but want something different on chapter title pages—you might be able to set up some predefined styles to help with that, but it doesn't take much to throw a layout off. An accidental click-and-drag or placing an image can make one page (or a section of pages) inconsistent with the rest of the book.

In short, "What You See Is What You Get" systems can be too finicky and fragile for formatting a book-sized document.

So Why ConTeXt?

ConTeXt is what's called a "document processing system" or a typesetting language. It can be handy to compare it to HTML, if you're technical: you not only have the content of the book, but you have bits of code around it that mark what kind of content it is, how it should look, and where it should go if not in the normal flow of pages.

ConTeXt is built on top of TeX, a system well-known for its ability to handle formatting math formulas. It and variants of it (like LaTeX) have been commonly used in academia for formatting journal articles.

There are two huge advantages of using a typesetting language:

  1. You can define common styles and structures similar to how you would in CSS. The ability to define a "sidebar" style that you can change by altering code in a single place is invaluable for consistency, experimentation, and tweaks.
  2. By using manual markup, you can ensure that the right styles, index references, and document levels are being applied to the right content, every time.

The fact that ConTeXt is compiled on a command line means that you can automate the building and generation of your book, if you want to be extra geeky about it.

Where Are We in This Process?

Conversion of a 14,000-word document with lists and sidebars from MS Word to ConTeXt took a few hours and was a little tedious. After that, though, we had a PDF with a starter index that was the final size of the book (8.5 inches by 5.5 inches) and that looked... like a book.

Next up is image selection, some decisions about fonts, and the design of book ornaments!

What Is Rosette Dramatic LARP, Again?

Rosette Dramatic LARP is a sourcebook with an approach to live-action roleplaying that focuses on collaborative storytelling and consent-based conflict resolution. It will be released on DriveThruRPG, itch.io, and Amazon. You can add it to your itch.io collection now.

If you're a journalist or a streamer/podcaster of roleplaying books, submit a request to receive a copy when we complete the book.

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