How do you organize your e-books?
June 25, 2011 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Any tips and advice on how to manage your e-book files and library, especially on calibre?

I have acquired a lot of e-books over the years. I have been reading them using my computer. Most of the files are in .PDF, .TXT and .RTF formats. Other reading materials are in .JPG and .PNG (for scanned stuff) and .CBR for comics. I bought a Kindle recently, and I plan to buy an iPad soon for work. So I plan on using these three devices regularly to read the e-books.

I am a bit obsessed on having an organized library -- this is why I switched from iTunes to MediaMonkey, so I can accommodate all the edits, metatags and whatnot that I want on my music files. It's been years but I am still not done there, but that's another story.

Anyway, my point is, I think calibre is like MediaMonkey, and I've just discovered it because of the Kindle. I read the manual, but I am at a loss on how to maximize its uses. How do you go about organizing your ebooks in calibre? It sure does a lot but for the moment I am overwhelmed with all the features, that I can't seem to wrap my head around what I'm supposed to do.

My initial thoughts are the following:
1. Since I am going to be using a computer, a Kindle and an iPad, I would limit the file formats to just the following: .PDF, .MOBI and .EPUB, with the exception of .CBR for comics (I use CDisplay to read them). So my plan is to convert everything that's not yet in this format.

1.1. Should all my files have these three formats each so I can view them in all devices? Would that bloat my library and memory?

2. What other programs can I use to edit the look of the ebook, i.e. book cover, page numbers et al. Some converted files look like shit, and I am thinking of fixing them.

3. As with my music files, I am used to grouping my *files* by genre or at least something similar. For example:

Magazines > Home > DIY > ReadyMade
Books > Fiction > Magical Realism > Gabriel Garcia Marquez

But then I read this and I am really concerned. So does that mean that in calibre everything is fine and dandy, but outside my files are a mess? How did you deal with this?

4. How do you sort your books? I saw some people use Last Name, First Name - Title or First Name Last Name - Title. Is there a way to group by genre, then alphabetically?

5. I am looking at the Collections in Kindle as a way to group e-books by genres. Is this a smart or stupid thing to do? How do I edit the collections on calibre?

I guess I am looking for strategies on how to organize e-books, and if you can give a few tips on how to do this on calibre and sync it with my computer, kindle or ipad, that would be great, too.
posted by pleasebekind to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
1.1. Should all my files have these three formats each so I can view them in all devices? Would that bloat my library and memory?

You can use calibre to read any format the books are in. I like to convert them all to just one (I use epub, but I've got a Nook). If you could use a mobi reader on the ipad, you could probably just put all your books in that format.

2. What other programs can I use to edit the look of the ebook, i.e. book cover, page numbers et al. Some converted files look like shit, and I am thinking of fixing them.

There's probably a better way, but I convert the books to text and edit them on my computer and then convert them back to the desired format.

3. As with my music files, I am used to grouping my *files* by genre or at least something similar. For example:

Magazines > Home > DIY > ReadyMade
Books > Fiction > Magical Realism > Gabriel Garcia Marquez

But then I read this and I am really concerned. So does that mean that in calibre everything is fine and dandy, but outside my files are a mess? How did you deal with this?

I think tagging the books would be the answer to that. The files will stay in the same physical location in the directory structure but the tags would give you as many options for organization as you want.

and sorry, I don't know about your last two questions.
posted by lemniskate at 1:17 PM on June 25, 2011

Best answer: 1.1: If you have the space, sure, convert them all at once. It can take a while to convert between formats, so even though calibre will do the conversion on the fly, if you're in a hurry you might want to have them all pre-converted. It won't make a difference to the way your library displays, and I doubt it'd have much effect on memory usage.

2: Calibre lets you explode an epub and open its files in whatever editor you like, but I prefer using Sigil. If you're converting from PDF, you'll probably want to use Briss to chop out headers and footers so they don't get mixed into the text.

3: Same way the author of that post did. Metadata is kept in calibre and the filesystem is a black box. (In practice, it's not that bad, but if you're having problems with the idea of giving up control of the layout, just think of it as if calibre were storing your books in a database, not on the filesystem.) If I want a particular filesystem structure for some purpose, I can export from calibre. So far, I have not needed to care about the filesystem.

4: You can sort by whatever field you want, and while I don't think there's a "Genre" field, you can add your own custom fields and sort by them. So you could, for example, create a custom field called Genre and assign 100 Years of Solitude the "Magical Realism" genre, which you'd use as a sorting field. Then you could also tag that book with "magical realism" and "colombia" and "generational" and whatever else you might want to group/search by later. You could add a field for the translator and sort by that. Short version: you can group and sort however you want, with books in multiple, single, or no groups, as you see fit. There's no one "view" of your library; there's however you want to view it at the time.

5: Kindle collections are pretty ungainly. There's a plugin for calibre that lets you work with them, but it seems that they're just a poorly implemented feature to begin with. I don't use them much, but I probably should. (And I hadn't seen that plugin until just now, so maybe I'll give it a try.)
posted by hades at 1:19 PM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm still working through this myself. I have two kindles and my iphone on which I read ebooks, so I've been spending some time lately trying to plow through a workable system myself. For a long time I just read stuff I bought from Amazon, so that was simple. But recently I decided to organize all the stuff I'd either DL'd, purchased from other vendors, or scooped up in other ways so that I could actually read them all. Here are my thoughts so far:

1. I'd say no. It's quick enough to convert a file when you need it using Calibre. I was thinking I'd do all that work, too, but now I just take a few minutes, pick the next batch of stuff I'd like to add to whichever device (iphone, kindle, computer), convert it, and add it to my device.

2. If something had a crappy cover, I'd download a new one and add it as I converted it to a new format. Used google's image search, got the book cover. Sometimes just DL'd it from Amazon. Select it inside Calibre, add to the book. I didn't do any other editing, but hades has some great ideas. It depends on the source file, and some things will never look good. It's a cost/benefit ratio thing for me. If I have a good looking file with just a crappy cover, fine. If it's something I'll need to invest more than, say, 15 minutes to fix? Forget it.

3. Use a bunch of tags and let go of the idea of folders. I finally got my head around this. You think "well, I want to read a mystery, let me go to my mystery folder on my PC to see what I have that I haven't read." That is the wrong process (for database stuff, anyway). Open Calibre, search on your tags for mystery (or however you like to find stuff) and then work it that way.

From Calibre's about page:
calibre can sort the books in your library by: Title, Author, Date added, Date published, Size, Rating, Series, etc.

In addition, it supports extra searchable metadata:

Tags: A flexible system for categorizing your collection however you like
Comments: A long form entry that you can use for book description, notes, reviews, etc.
You can easily search your book collection for a particular book. calibre supports searching any and all of the fields mentioned above. You can construct advanced search queries by clicking the helpful "Advanced search" button to the left of the search bar.

You can export arbitrary subsets of your collection to your hard disk arranged in a fully customizable folder structure.

Finally, calibre will even go out onto the internet to find book metadata based on existing title/author or ISBN information. It can download various types of metadata and covers for your books, automatically. The metadata system is written using plugins so that different types of metadata sources can be supported in the future.

I haven't used that exporting feature (bolded) but maybe that's the way to go if you want to have folders. To me, it sounds like you'd have two copies of the files. One in the Calibre library, and one in your exported folder. But maybe that's ok.

4. 3&4 are kinda the same, yes? Or do you just mean how do you name the files? Again, it honestly doesn't matter to Calibre. How much of your life do you want to give up to this? That's where I made my decision. You can sort within Calibre to whatever you want.

5. I don't know what to do on this one, either. I use collections in Kindle, too, as a way of keeping page turns down at the main menu. I did them manually on my Kindle; I keep a spreadsheet of all my ebooks that are on my devices, so I added that category there, as well, which is probably huge amounts of redundant work.
posted by clone boulevard at 1:39 PM on June 25, 2011

To build on #4 as discussed by the others above, you can do multi-column sorting by clicking on the lowest level first (e.g., title), any middle levels (e.g., author) and then the highest level (e.g., genre). So by my example, your items would be sorted by genre -> author -> title.
posted by bluesapphires at 3:14 PM on June 25, 2011

Also, look into the "plugboard" feature when loading books - it's very customizable and can be set to behave differently on a per-device basis.

I use it to put the series information in the Title metadata when loading my Kindle, so I don't have to have a document with reading orders. I really love having Calibre track all the metadata for me with its customizable exporting functionality.

It also has customizable columns that you can load and sort by. You can also open e-readers from Calibre, which would save you from having to look at the black-box file structure at all.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:43 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. Looks like I have my work cut out for me. I have a few more questions though:

1. How do I edit the titles in such a way that books that are part of a series will appear side by side in my Kindle, and in the right order?
2. If I am to edit the metadata of an ebook that's in calibre but is also already in my Kindle, what is the best way to do it? Because when I edited the one that's in calibre, then sent it to Kindle, I ended up having two copies of the book in the Kindle.
3. What has been your experience reading PDFs on the Kindle? Should I endeavor to convert them all to .mobi?
posted by pleasebekind at 3:04 AM on June 28, 2011

1: Check out, as bookdragoness said, the "plugboard" feature. Here's a tutorial.

2: Use calibre to delete the old copy from the Kindle before sending the new copy. (Right-click -> "Remove Books" -> "Remove matching books from device".) At least, that's what works for me. I haven't had it upload two copies of a book to the Kindle where it didn't associate both copies with the same book in calibre, though. Is that happening to you? Oh, and you'll have to do this via USB, not email. I'm pretty sure there's no way to have calibre send a new version of a file through the email gateway and have it overwrite the existing copy on the kindle.

3: I don't care for PDFs on the Kindle much. If I could specify a zoom window, rather than having to choose a fixed percentage and then position that window, I might like it better. As is, I hardly ever read PDFs on the Kindle. And conversion from PDF can be ... problematic. So for the most part I've been acquiring e-books in other formats. Someone with more of a PDF collection might have better advice here.
posted by hades at 8:54 PM on June 28, 2011

1. If it's a series, I make the first part of the title be the book number. So, for example, in my Crime Fiction collection I have 03 The Redbreast, then 04 Nemesis, then 05 The Devil's Star, all by Jo Nesbo. This doesn't mean they'll be all lined up as neatly in your Kindle as you'd hope, because the only options for display are by Most Recent, Title, or Author, but it will at least get you closer and will allow you more easily to read in order. If you have an author that wrote multiple series you could have, say, 01 Harry Bosch - The Black Echo and 01 Mickey Haller - The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. That could allow you to sort by Title, I guess.

2. what hades said

3. Honestly, I don't read PDFs on my Kindle. I had a few, but the reading experience wasn't good and I haven't experimented more.


and now I've read the plugboards thing and see that it does automatically what I did manually. Neat!
posted by clone boulevard at 1:41 PM on June 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, and high fives all around! You guys are awesome.
posted by pleasebekind at 9:31 PM on June 29, 2011

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