LyX and Lulu

Use LyX to create stellar on-line books for the Lulu publishing service.

Writers are everywhere. They can be in school, in business or trying to make a living printing text on the page. The Internet abounds with various Microsoft Windows tools to aid in writing books, transcripts and other media. Many of these sites and programs still rely on traditional word-processing programs for output.

LyX is different. It's a typesetting tool designed on LaTeX. In short, LyX makes your printed documents look more like what comes from a professional publishing company. is a fast-growing Web site where you can publish that book you've been meaning to write for the last ten years.

Together, LyX and Lulu make a great pair. Although they can't fix your poor writing habits, they will make your final publication look professionally printed and bound.

This is part one of a two-part series. In this first article, I explain some of the striking benefits of LyX and how to get your final document into the Web site. The next article will focus on using Pixel to create your final book cover for the publication.

What's LaTeX?

LaTeX is a typesetting system, not a word processor. Word processors fit nicely in the business world, because they give command of fancy document layout to the end user. They also have other tools you expect, such as spell checkers or an automated thesaurus.

LaTeX did not impress me at first. Its raw form is ugly and difficult to understand. Just looking at the text, you cannot realize what it will look like in final printed form. Consider the following text example from the LaTeX Web site:

\title{Cartesian closed categories and the price of eggs}
\author{Jane Doe}
\date{September 1994}
   Hello world!

This is what you need to type into a text editor for LaTeX to render a graphical output. But what you get after using LaTeX is:

Cartesian closed categories and the price of eggs
Jane Doe
September 1994

Hello world!

So what's the big deal with the output? I'll admit in short documents, it is not easy to see a difference with LaTeX typesetting. However, in longer published works, you begin to see the subtle differences expand dramatically.

Looking closer, you will find LaTeX treats printed output with refined precision. Specifically, the kerning, letter spacing and layout is different from what comes out of a word processor. Consider Figures 1 and 2 from

Figure 1. An Example of Microsoft Word Kerning—Incorrect Kerning for the Ta Letter Pair

Figure 2. The Word Table Processed by LyX/LaTeX—Adjusted Kerning for the Ta Letter Pair

As you can see in Figures 1 and 2, the kerning between characters is slightly different. One word does not make a big difference, but a whole page of text does.

What LyX Does

As you can see from the previous example, LaTeX is ugly to work with in plain-text format. The commands provide fine-looking output, but no one wants to key these in by hand. To fix this problem, several popular LaTeX editing programs are available to do the command formatting for you.

LyX is a GUI document-processing front end for LaTeX. With LyX, you can key in the text and let the program organize how it looks on paper. LyX calls this the What You See Is What You Mean (WYSIWN) way of document processing—meaning you don't need to play with formatting the document. You focus on what you're writing and let the LyX commands do the work of making it look good.

Where to Get LyX?

LyX is likely in the repository of your Linux distribution. So, all you probably need to do is use your package manager to install the program, and you're ready to begin. If LyX is not in the repository, you can download and install it from

Besides the LyX package, it's also important to download and install a spell-checking program, such as ispell or aspell. Again, use your package manager to install these.

Starting LyX

Prepare yourself—the starting screen of LyX appears stark compared to a typical word processor (Figure 3). Remember, it's not a word processor; it's a text publishing system. LyX won't disappoint you in its capability for delivering good results.

Figure 3. LyX Starting Page

Before going further, set up some defaults applicable to your environment. First, go to Layout→Document (Figure 4). Here you need to define what document you are creating. For this two-part series, we work with the book class in 8.5x11 US Letter. After selecting the book class, select Paper, as shown in Figure 5. Use the drop-down list to find US Letter.

Figure 4. Choose Document to change the characteristics of the whole document.

Figure 5. For the right paper size, I chose US Letter.

Next, include either ispell or aspell as the assigned spell checker for LyX. Go to Edit→Preferences, and select Spellchecker under Language Settings. In Figure 6, I have selected aspell as the spell checker for LyX.

Figure 6. Select aspell or ispell for spell checking.

Finally, review the document converters installed with LyX. Look further down the Preferences screen, and you will see Converters. Select this, and make sure your distribution lists the proper .dvi and .pdf programs in the right location (Figure 7).

Figure 7. Some distributions (like Kubuntu) have the right converters installed by the package manager.

When finished, you must reconfigure LyX for it to work properly. Go to Edit→Reconfigure, then restart LyX. Now you're ready to learn this powerful program.