Despite the fact that I use it almost every day, I am not a fan of Microsoft Word, particularly for of longer documents or anything involving images, tables or charts. So, when it comes to writing at home, I really prefer to use good desktop publishing software. The trouble is, I don’t write enough to justify investing in industry-standard packages like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXpress so recently I have been having a look at some of the free open source desktop publishing software options available online.
My current favourite is Scribus which has most of the features of the industry leaders and produces quite smart-looking output. I like that it provides italic and bold versions of some of the installed fonts , that it allow you to output press quality PDFs, and that you can align your text to a baseline grid which, if you’re fussy like I am, is the kind of detail that matters.
You can also set up stylesheets and then apply them to your document. The stylesheet specifies the font, size, line spacing, alignment, etc . For example, you might have a style sheet for a first paragraph that differs from your main paragraph stylesheet by using a drop cap for the first word in the paragraph.
If you have never used Quark or Indesign (or don’t know what a stylesheet is) then Scribus may not be for you because even though there are good online tutorials and help, the learning curve would be steep. Instead, you might look at alternatives such as the new WordPress application, Pressbooks.com. However,i f you have used Quark or Indesign, then you’ll catch on to Scribus pretty quickly.
As far as techie tips go, I can only speak from having installed Scribus on a Windows XP laptop where I did not encounter any significant problems. Scribus prompted me to install a couple of utilities such as GIMP (for image manipulation) and Ghostscript (for print preview).
Once you start working on a document, the Scribus interface feels a bit clunky until you get used to it. For example, text is created and formatted in an editing window where style features can be applied will not be visible until you view the document. But all the features are there, and the more you work with it, the easier it gets. You learn some shortcuts along the way which speeds up the editing process.
Anyone who has used other DTP software will know that it is important to keep backups and, for longer projects, like a book, it is also a good idea to save Chapters separately just so that you don’t lose too much if anything goes wrong.