Is Your Ebook Library a Black Hole?

by Jami Gold on March 5, 2013

in Over-Achieving Perfectionist

Black hole in middle of paper with text: Is Your Ebook Library a Black Hole?

I’ve admitted before that my to-be-read (TBR) pile is ridiculously large. I have piles around my desk and piles in my bedroom. Even more books pile up in my Kindle. There’s a reason I’ve called myself a book slut. I just can’t resist books. *smile*

Some people with big TBR piles read books in a certain order. They might read in a first-in-first-out order, taking the oldest book from the stack. Others do the first-in-first-out method with most of the books but allow some to sneak to the top.

Not me. I have no set order for my TBR pile. I tend to read what appeals to me at that moment in time rather than assigning books a place in line. I usually decide on a genre first and then skim through the books in that genre until I find a back cover blurb that grabs my attention.

My “method” is the same behavior we use when browsing at a library or bookstore. Maybe that’s my excuse for the size of my TBR pile—I’m trying to create my own personal library. *snicker*

I don't want much...Just a library like the one in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. *drool*

The physical books in my TBR pile are easy to wade through. The covers are right there to look at and entice me. A twist of my wrist lets me read the back cover blurb to find the perfect book to match my mood.

The ebooks on my Kindle are another story. I created a Collection for those I haven’t read yet and another Collection that’s supposed to be my “Top of the TBR Pile,” but there’s no easy way to skim through them, reading the back cover blurbs. At least, no way that’s as quick and easy as picking up a book and flipping it over.

The best tool I’ve found so far is the Calibre ebook management software. Calibre imports the title, author, and metadata information (including those back cover blurbs) from your ereader if the ebook’s metadata is coded correctly (a good example of why metadata is so important). It also grabs the book cover from Amazon.

Calibre should solve my problem. However, it can be a pain to keep synchronized because you have to connect your ereader to your computer to update your Calibre library. Also, it isn’t user friendly for my purposes—looking up book information for my Kindle choices when I’m not at my computer.

Yet I know plenty of people who have bigger TBR piles on their ereaders than I do. Are all ereaders a black hole of ebooks, where books are downloaded and then lost in the pile? Or am I a special case of disorganized chaos?

I’m hoping something out there will let me view covers and back cover blurbs from the virtual bookshelf or let me sort and search by genre. Maybe there’s a secret organizational tool I’m not aware of. Maybe no one else has this problem because the newer ereaders (I have a 2-year-old Kindle Keyboard) don’t require users to click through and connect to the retailer to read the Book Description. Or maybe no one else cares about the mess in their ereader. *smile*

How do you work your way through your TBR pile: first-in-first-out, random, or somewhere in the middle? Does anyone else take the bookstore browsing approach? Do you suffer from an ereader black hole problem? If not, why not (a different buying style, reading style, ereader design, or a management tool)? What suggestions do you have for how to manage ebook libraries?

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43 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

CBame13 March 5, 2013 at 6:54 am

Ugh my TBR pile is absolutely absurd and unfortunately it’s pretty much all on my eReader. I also use Calibre because, unfortunately, it is the best I have found for allowing not only the searching of metadata, but also the altering of metadata. I tend to read series books or books by the same author so being able to change the metadata titles allows me to sort them even though my eReader (Sony grrr…) is atrocious with sort functions and seems to have designed itself specifically to vex me.
My biggest issue with my eReader is that when skimming for a new book to read I invariably stumble across a favorite and end up picking it up instead. I really need to switch back to paper books so I can just hide those from myself once I’ve read them!
I’ve recently taken to making a list for myself of books I absolutely need to read and giving myself a deadline to read each one by. It works great when I don’t have a ton of actual work to do, but when I’m swamped I tend to just let my reading fall by the wayside. Oh well, one step at a time right?

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Hi CBame13,

Yes! I find I also have to do clean up on the metadata of books too. I should probably start paying attention to which publishers aren’t doing their job very well. :)

LOL! at your dilemma of rereading old favorites. I can relate. With those books, we know exactly whether it will fit our mood or not. I have a “Already Read” collection on my Kindle that I move them to, so at least I don’t trip over them there. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Christie Speich March 5, 2013 at 6:58 am

I use Goodreads to keep track of my TBR list. I also have many, many more books on my TBR list than I actually own….it’s more like a wish list :-)

It doesn’t help with a Kindle Keyboard, but I have the Goodreads app on my Fire (although the Fire can also connect to Amazon so I can look up a book there too) . I also have the Goodreads app on my phone, which could supplement the Kindle Keyboard if you have a smartphone?

Of course, you do require an internet connection to use the Goodreads app (or connecting to Amazon) via the Fire, but my phone has a connection so I use that I’m not in wifi range.

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Stephanie Scott March 5, 2013 at 10:11 am

Same here, I use Goodreads primarily to sort all of what Ihave to read (books owned, on a shelf) and things I’m interested in that I might get from the library or download. I have a separate wish list on my library’s website which I can request from, and actually another one for library ebooks. There are a lot of lists. Getting it down to one might be impossible.

I also choose based on my interest at the time.

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Hi Stephanie,

Yes, I tend to use Goodreads for my print books (that ISBN scanner on the Goodreads mobile app makes it easy) and Calibre for my ebooks. And like you, I have other “wish list” lists, so getting it down to one might be, as you said, impossible. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Hi Christie,

I’ve thought about using Goodreads, but I haven’t done much with my shelves there, and as you said, many books on my TBR shelf are more like a wish list. I have the Goodreads app on my phone (I love being able to scan the ISBN numbers of paper books!), so I might have to look at adding my ebook books as well. Thanks for the comment!

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Rebekah Loper March 5, 2013 at 7:25 am

Eek, TBR piles … I have three. I have books I’ve borrowed from other people that I really need to finish reading and get back to them, I have library books (which usually jump to the front of the pile since I have to return them, inevitably), and I have my Kindle. What jumps to the top of the pile on ALL of those are books I’ve promised to review for people, especially ones with deadlines (IE: release dates, blog tours, etc)

My Kindle is a black hole, sadly . . . but at least I’ve picked most the books for free the past year or so!

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Hi Rebekah,

It’s funny–despite my voracious reading habits throughout my life, I’ve never been a huge library person because I love owning books too much. :)

Your multiple TBR piles sound like various versions of “must read now,” “really must read now,” and “really, really must read now.” LOL! Thanks for the comment and for making me feel better about mine! ;)

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Angela Quarles March 5, 2013 at 7:45 am

LOL, sounds like our piles are similar in some respects! My TBR pile by my desk looks like a lean-to against it, and then there’s another large one by my bed. And I select them the same way you do–mood.

My kindle is different though, and is a black hole in a different way–it’s TBR is tiny and so what I find happening is that, despite having a mountain of physical books to get through, I end up having to buy an ebook because I’m all out and need one on there for the times when it’s more convenient to read on my kindle (sitting at my local restaurant so no one will bug me and ask what i’m reading)

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Hi Angela,

Oh yes, I can’t use half my desk because I have so many books piled on it. LOL!

Ooo, I can understand that problem–and I know of your love for buying books in paper form if you can help it. :) I don’t have a suggestion of how to solve that problem, but thanks for the comment!

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Melinda S. Collins March 5, 2013 at 8:05 am

Oh no … the TBR pile. *bites nails* My physical TBR pile is at my desk and it’s mostly craft books. Those are the books I prefer to have actual hard copies of. And sadly, I’m way behind. Been too busy with actually writing and revising. :)

Now, the TBR list on my Nook is a whole ‘nother thing. LOL! I’ve got at least 30 books downloaded that I brought due to amazing reviews and/or word of mouth, but I’ve yet to get to them because a) they may not be in my genre, or b) I just wasn’t in the mood for them when it came time to finding another book to start reading.

Based on what you’ve said about your Kindle, I’m discovering that the Nook is very different regarding the ease of getting the back cover blurbs and telling which books are on the TBR pile. My Nook Color is two years old, so I’m hoping what I’m about to share is still the same for the newer versions, but whenever I buy a new book, a small ribbon is attached that says, “New.” And it’ll remain there until I actually open the book and skim through a page or two. So that’s one way I’ve been able to easily tell what’s on my TBR list. If I find one that I definitely want to read next, I click it and “pin” it my home page so that’ll it be easily accessible.

As for the backcover blurbs, I can press and hold on a book cover and when the menu pops up, I can select “Read Details” and it’ll give me the book’s blurb, along with a list of similar titles that other people purchased. :) I definitely owe my hubby a lot for not only giving me an e-reader 2 years ago, but for being such a geek that he was able to find one that’s lasted and has been wonderful in this respect.

Great post, Jami! :D

P.S. – Regarding your post last month on bartering for services such as graphic design, I ended up bartering with my sister-in-law last week for a design specifically for my new up-and-coming author website (yup, I’m moving to WordPress, too. :) ). The only cost I’ll cover is for the artwork from iStockPhoto (which is only amounting to about $40). And the best part is that I bartered babysitting services, so it’s win-win since I’ll get to spend more time with my niece and nephew. So thank you! I never would’ve thought to do that without your post. :D

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Hi Melinda,

Yes, it’s possible to see the back cover blurbs from the Kindle, but from my version it means going into the menu of the book and selecting Book Description and then waiting as the Kindle connects to the Kindle Store. *sigh* So it’s probably not that different, but I’m impatient when I have some precious free time to read a book. LOL!

Oh! Thanks for the update–that sounds great. Congratulations on successfully bartering your services! :) Thanks for the comment!

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Michelle Roberts March 5, 2013 at 8:17 am

Speaking as an OCD list-maker, well, I make lists. My TBR list is horrendously long (two columns, 19 pages). I also have a separate list for the ebooks I’ve purchased and I separate those into genre. When I want to add an ebook into my rotation all I have to do is cut/paste it into the main list.

I like having a list so I can keep track of which book in a series goes in which order. Before I made the list, I just read whatever caught my attention first. It took me a good 6 months of concentrated effort to just finish all the series I had started and not bothered to look up the next books to. :) So, for me, lists are essential if I ever want to finish a series while I still remember what the previous books were about.

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Hi Michelle,

I can relate. I thought about making an Excel spreadsheet (yes, really–LOL!), but that wouldn’t have been any more convenient than Calibre.

That’s a great point about series. I tend to save up books in a series to read all in a row to prevent that problem of forgetting from one book to another. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Michelle Roberts March 6, 2013 at 9:19 am

I did end up buying a nifty app for my Kindle Keyboard called Notepad. I keep a list of ebooks I want to read next there too. It’s a lot to keep updated sometimes, but I don’t really mind–OCD list-maker and all.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2013 at 11:20 am

Hi Michelle,

Interesting! I haven’t looked at any of the non-book offerings for the older Kindles. Thanks for sharing! :)

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Stina Lindenblatt March 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm

yay, I’m not alone on this. I also read whatever I’m in the mood for. Unfortunately I bought a bunch of YA paranormal books and I haven’t been in the mood for them for quite some time. Lately, I’ve been focusing on NA contemporary romances, which means everything else has been impatiently waiting for me to go back to the older stuff.

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Hi Stina,

I’m glad to see so many people sharing my browsing method. :)

Yes, I’ve been on a historical kick for a while now, so many of the books in my pile have been ignored. Someday I’ll get back into other moods. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Amanda March 5, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Oh, the TBR pile…mine is daunting. 35 books on hold at the library (you can suspend them, thank god), 50+ on my actual shelves, and 20+ on the Kindle.

I have no method. My plan for reading all of those 50+ books on my bookshelves is to switch off: literary fiction, then genre fiction. But my Kindle…it was a mess. Still is. I have a Paperwhite, so I can see the covers (but not back cover blurbs), so I set up collections by genre: UF, Romance, Erotic Romance, Classics, etc. So far I only have about 50 books on the Kindle, so they haven’t gotten out of hand, and I removed a couple to keep the Cloud because I don’t anticipate re-reading them any time soon. That would be my tip: once you’re done with a book on your Kindle and don’t think you’ll re-read it any time soon, take it off.

When it comes to picking one, though, I have no system. I pick whatever catches my fancy and sometimes, it’s one I’ve already read. Oops. :)

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Hi Amanda,

If it makes you feel any better, my TBR is much larger. LOL!

That’s a good tip about kicking books back to the cloud after we’re done with them. Thanks for sharing! :)

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Laurie Evans March 5, 2013 at 1:45 pm

I use Goodreads to keep track of my books, too. But I really wish I had a better way to organize on my Kindle.

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Hi Laurie,

Hmm, judging by all these comments, it sounds like Amazon could use some better organizational tools. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung March 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I have the kindle keyboard too. Well, I didn’t do much organizing there. Just a “literary classics” folder and a “popular novels” folder. My lit classics one has almost 200 books in it. My pop. novels only a few, most of which I’ve already read—just because I have to pay to get them, lol, whereas for classics, they’re mostly free.

Like you, I never read from newest to oldest or oldest to newest. I just read whatever catches my fancy next. I would just scan my bookshelf to see if any of them “jump” at me. And then I’d scan my kindle books. Gradually I narrow my choices to fewer and fewer books until I decide on one. Sometimes I just can’t decide and have to resort to the eenie meenie minie moe method :D

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Hi Serena,

LOL! Love the eenie meenie minie moe method. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Linda Adams - Soldier, Storyteller March 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm

What? You mean there has to be organization?

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 8:10 pm

HI Linda,

LOL! No, there doesn’t have to be. And as these comments make clear, there usually isn’t any organization even when we want it! :) Thanks for the comment!

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Belinda March 5, 2013 at 7:28 pm

I have the Kobo and Kindle apps on my iPhone and iPad (which has replaced my old eReader), and that helps me sort out which books I want to read first.

1) I can see the covers in colour
2) the blurbs are already loaded onto my iPhone/iPad
3) in general, the apps sync with your eReader (be it Kindle, Kobo or Nook); and
4) PREVIEWS!! I love previews, and if an ebook hasn’t hooked me by the end of it, I don’t buy it, which keeps the black hole in check :)

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Jami Gold March 5, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Hi Belinda,

Yes, I’d love for the blurbs to be loaded with the book! Thanks for sharing your method. :)

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Carradee March 6, 2013 at 6:44 am

I’m like you, except less organized. It’s happened a few times, where I find a book and want to read it…only to realize I already have it. (This is particularly true for free or cheap e-books I pick up, even when it’s a title I want to read.)

I’ve dabbled at organization, but I frankly have other things that are priorities to organize—like the character information for the series I’m writing. ^_^

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Jami Gold March 6, 2013 at 8:59 am

Hi Carradee,

LOL! Actually, I’m very grateful for the Amazon feature that lets you know if you’ve already purchased an ebook. I’ve done that–several times. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jeremy Duley March 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm

My “system” is I’ll flip through my Kindle and see a book I forgot I even owned, then I get all excited like the book and I just met….then I read it.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Hi Jeremy,

LOL! Yes, that “forgot I even owned” happens to me a lot too. Thank goodness Amazon doesn’t let me buy the same ebook twice. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Melinda VanLone March 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I’ve actually sent suggestions/complaints to Amazon about the Kindle and it’s lack of organization. I know they want to steer us toward the Fire which will show the cover, but even then I can’t arrange them as I want. It drives me CRAZY. It’s something Apple does so much better…I can arrange that bookshelf any way I want, with different shelves for different things, etc. Amazon could really learn from them. As it is, I sorta use a combination of Goodreads and Amazon (manage your kindle), but it’s mediocre at best. I hate it.

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Jami Gold March 6, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Hi Melinda,

I hear you. :) I’m not familiar with how Apple does things but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn they did it better. Thanks for sharing and for the comment!

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ChemistKen March 7, 2013 at 7:56 am

I collect a lot of free ebooks along with the ones I purchase, just to have a collection of writing styles from which to learn. This means I have tons of choices from which to choose, along with the physical pile I have next to the bed. I don’t read my books in any particular order. In fact, I usually read 3-4 books simultaneously, jumping around and choosing what ever fits my current mood. I’ve given up on finding any sort of method to my madness.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2013 at 7:58 am

Hi ChemistKen,

LOL! Yes, I definitely understand–especially the madness part. ;) Thanks for the comment!

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Reetta Raitanen March 7, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I’m a total book slut too. My Kindle has well over 300 books and I’ve read maybe third of them. And I keep buying more every time I see a new shiny that interests me. That, and I borrow at least few books from the library too every time I visit.

I have old fashioned Word lists sorted by genres and priority (for my WIPs and other must reads). But I rarely pick a book from the list. I read as my moods dictate. Romance and non-fiction are my go to’s when I need light reading (is it freaky to find facts relaxing? :P). I also tend to read authors’ books in batches. Right now I’m in a Meljean Brooks phase.

My actual read books tend to be by authors whose names start with early letters of the alphabet. Some really interesting books languish because their authors’ names start with later alphabets, and I rarely get to the later part of my list before something catches my interest.

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Jami Gold March 7, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Hi Reetta,

Yes, I thought about making a big list, but then I figured I’d never actually use it. LOL!

And ROTFLOL to your alphabetical issue. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Joanna Aislinn March 7, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Catching up a bit late here, but I definitely related to this post. I own a Nook but am big on downloading Kindle books to the iPad, esp the freebies. I don’t organize them in any way and just pick and choose at whim. Some stand out more than others in terms of remembering I have them. It is what it is, lol. Great post, Jami!

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Jami Gold March 7, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Hi Joanna,

Yes, good point! Some books do stand out more in our memory, which I usually take as a sign that I really want to read that one. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Joanna Aislinn March 8, 2013 at 7:03 am

Always a pleasure to drop in here, Ms. Gold. Have a great day and a great weekend! :)

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Melissa Maygrove March 21, 2013 at 8:47 am

I can relate. I have a Kindle Keyboard and a Fire. The one single thing Amazon could do to make the reading experience better is to include the books back cover information in the download.

I can see the covers in color now, in my Fire’s carousel, which is an improvement over the Keyboard, but I still have to go to the book’s info page to see the blurb. I usually forget about the book’s story description by the time I get around to reading it.

Like you, I download way more books than I have time to read. I think I have over 300 on my TBR list right now. And that’s just on my e-reader. o_0

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Jami Gold March 21, 2013 at 9:50 am

Hi Melissa,

“The one single thing Amazon could do to make the reading experience better is to include the books back cover information in the download.”

This times a million. :) Thanks for the comment!

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