Producing a book with Scribus: useful tips

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While working on my own book for Apress, Free Software for Creative People, I've also been typesetting a 240 page poetry book by Richard McKane using Scribus, for the publisher Hearing Eye. Years ago I used to use Quark Xpress for this sort of project, so I was pleased to find out that free software can now do the same job.

I used the Free Software font Deja Vu Serif Book because of its support for the Turkish characters used in the manuscript, which used to be a real typesetting challenge on proprietary software. Modern Turkish has all kinds of characters that aren't used in the standard Latin alphabet -- the letter i with no dot, for instance. Fonts left these characters out, and importing documents often failed to recognise them, leaving the pages to be manually corrected. Fortunately, Scribus and GNU/Linux have much better support for internationalisation than the System 7 and System 8 Macs that I learned typesetting on.

These are my tips for book production with Scribus:

  1. Use the latest upstream stable version of Scribus. The GNU/Linux distribution packages are often a release or two behind, and you really don't want that.

  2. Unless you have a very fast CPU in your computer, break the book document up into sections or chapters - it will make the editing process much more bearable. It also keeps the sections separate at the proofing and corrections stage.

  3. Import master pages from one section to another to maintain consistency, such as margin and page number formatting.

  4. Export each section as an individual PDF file. Then use pdftk to stitch the section together into a single inside pages PDF for your litho platemaker or print-on-demand digital press. No doubt the cover will be required as a separate PDF.



Terry Hancock's picture

Dang, I was going to write about typesetting a book with Scribus. :-)

I typeset my Free Software Magazine book Achieving Impossible Things with Free Culture and Commons-Based Enterprise using Scribus I just used the Debian package version, but I found it entirely adequate to my needs.

Except... that limit on number of pages is a killer! I found that 20-30 pages was the practical limit, especially when you have a lot of illustrations.

It's not so bad to assemble chapters together with pdftk, but the work involved in synchronizing styles between a couple dozen layout files is excessive. Scribus really needs some kind of book-level management tools.

Other than that though, it was really a lot of fun to work with.

Daniel James's picture

Hi Terry,

I'd be interested to hear about your experience, so please write that post if you have the time. I'd recommend the official Scribus Stable release rather than a svn package. It's an easy build from source, once you figure out they use cmake in preference to autotools.

The page limit is directly CPU related, I think because Scribus tries to render every page, all the time. I don't fully understand the reason for this design, because I used to typeset very long books on much slower Macs, and this was never a problem. The PDF output is the only really reliable proof, anyway.

As for style management, if you use the same Scribus file as the basis of each new chapter, then the master pages will all be the same. However, if you subsequently modify a master page, you'll have to re-import the new version of the master page to each document in the project. Paragraph styles have to be managed in the same way - see the bottom five entries on the Edit menu; there is usually an Import button somewhere.

It would be better if Scribus could optionally 'subscribe' to a master page or style sheet so that changes could be adopted automatically. There may be a way to do that with the current release, but I haven't found it yet.

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Daniel James's picture


Daniel James is the director of 64 Studio Ltd. He was one of the founders of LinuxUser & Developer Magazine, and the original director of the consortium.