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Managing your TBR pile with Calibre

For long time readers of this blog, Calibre is an indispensable tool for tracking my reading library. I shop primarily at Amazon but if I have coupons or see deals at other sites, I’ll buy there as well.  Plus, I have over a 1,000 books I bought before Amazon really got up and running. I need an organizational tool for my digital books.

But if all you did was buy at Amazon and you have a small book hoarding problem like me, then you also need an organizational tool to manage your To Be Read (TBR) pile.

Calibre offers you a couple of ways to organize your TBR pile.  First, you can create collections for Kindle and Kobo that sync with your digital reader. Second, you can sync your Goodreads account.  Finally, you can use plugboards to organize your content automatically (this is what I use).

Step 1.   Determining how you want to sort your content.

The first thing you want to do is create columns that will be used to sort your information.  There are a couple of ways to do this. First, you can use the default columns.  Calibre comes with columns for Title, Title Sort, Author, Author Sort, Date of Publication, Date (that you add the book to Calibre), Size of the file, Rating, Tags, Series, Publisher, Description.

Much of this information can be obtained automatically by authorizing Calibre to pull information from various sites like Amazon, Goodreads, Fantastic Fiction and many others.

Add a book either automatically or manually. Once the book is imported, depending on the publisher or author’s metadata capabilities, the book information can be sketchy:

Screenshot of self published ebook metadata screen

Screenshot of self published ebook metadata screen

By pressing the “Download Metadata” button at the bottom center, Calibre is ordered to go out onto the internet and look for information using the keywords already in the metadata columns such as title, name, identifier. If you aren’t getting the search results you want, go back and remove things like the Identifier and just search title and author.

Screenshot of metadata search results

Screenshot of metadata search results

After the metadata is downloaded, I have a full detailed description (blurb) as well as who the publisher is, the date of publication, and the “tags” (default categories).

Screenshot post metadata search

Screenshot post metadata search

If the information here is sufficient for you to create sortable TBR list, then move to Step 3. If not, then go to Step 2.

Step 2.  Create User Defined Columns

If the default metadata information is not enough for you, then you’ll want to create your own columns.  For instance, maybe you want to be able to search/sort information based on where you purchased the book or perhaps why you bought the book.  If so, then you’ll want to create your own metadata fields.  These are called “columns” in calibre.  To create a column, CTRL/CMD + P (This opens Preferences).  From the first row of icons, click on the button: Add your own columns.

add your own columns

Or simply position your mouse on the header bar of the database page and right click:

Right click add your own columns

Use the green and red buttons to add and delete user create columns.   For the purposes of this, I’m going to add “self-published” and “impulse buy” and “recommended”.  Self published and impulse buy are Yes/No columns where as Recommended By is “comma separated text” which allows for more than one choice. 

Delete / Add custom columns

Delete / Add custom columns


Whenever you add columns or delete them, you have to restart Calibre. Now when I look at the metadata window of a book, I have “custom metadata” tab and this will include all my user columns.

Screen Shot of custom metadata

Screen Shot of custom metadata

Now I’ll be able to set up lists for books that are “impulse buys” recommended by “friends”.  As you can see, your choices are limitless.

Step 3: Using Calibre Template Language

Let’s say you are a reviewer and have advanced reader copies.  Want to sort your books by month of release?  Are you a book hoarder and would like to keep track of when you make your purchases?  You can set up user created columns that automatically populate based on metadata already in your database.

Then you need to learn to use calibre template language to create  “virtual” columns that contain data from other columns. I’m going to reuse the example I’ve shown you in the past.

{series}{series_index:0>2s| – | – }{title}:  Turner Brothers – 01 – Unveiled

Let’s unpack this.  The field name inside the brackets {} correspond to the field lookup name.  In the above example, we have the following metadata:

metadata example of author title series

By using a calibre template langage, we are asking Calibre to change the title when it it sent to the device from “Unveiled” to  “Turner Brothers – 01 – Unveiled” which is the {series} + {series_index:0>2s| – | – } + {title}.

  • series=Turner Brothers
  • series_index:0>2s| – | –
    • 0>2s – two digits with leading zeros so 01, 02, 03.  If you did 0>3s it would be three digits with leading zeros or 001, 002, 003.
    • “| – | – ” places the dashes around the series. field:|prefix_text|suffix_text is the formula.  Here we have space pipe space as the prefix (or the text before the digit) and space pipe space as the suffix (the text after the digit).  If I changed it {series_index:0>2s|*|*} the result would be Turner Brothers*01*Unveiled.  Notice the lack of spaces.
  • title=Unveiled

Let’s do this with dates.  We are going to create another user column, only this time in the dropdown box we select “column built from other columns.”


Screen Shot of column based on other columns

Screen Shot of column based on other columns


Using the template language, I created a column that includes just the month the book was published.

{pubdate:format_date(yy-MM (MMMM))} = 13-11 (November)

The field name inside the brackets {} correspond to the field lookup name.  We are asking calibre to lookup “pubdate” {pubdate} and then reformat it.  The variable is the what is contained inside the parentheses after format_date.

  • yy = last two digits of the year
  • MM=two digit month
  • MMM = abbreviated text of the month
  • MMMM = full length text of the month

Let’s say you just want it to read Aug or Sept, your formula would be {pubdate:format_date(MMM)}. This can be changed at any time.  Now you can sort your books just by the month published.

Step 4: Set up Search features

The last step after you’ve created your custom columns and tweaked your metadata is to set up saved searches so you can easily find books you want to read.  Assume you want to search for all books you’ve purchased in the last 30 days.  Into the text input area next to the binoculars, type date:<30daysago.  

Perhaps you want to find all the books that were published more than 30 days ago and that you haven’t read.  Type in #tbr:”no” and pubdate:<=30daysago

The user columns you have created are denoted with the pound sign #.  Another search you can implement is ratings.  The ratings are based on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you are seeking out metadata.  You could search for #tbr:”no” and pubdate:<=30daysago and rating:>=3

This command will look up books that are marked “no” in your TBR custom column, that were published less than or equal to 30 days ago with a rating of greater or equal to 3.

And finally, because you don’t want to keep remembering all these things, save your searches!  At the end of the search input line is the “Saved Searches” tools area.  You can save your searches and delete them as you see fit.

Screen shot of saved searches

Screen shot of saved searches toolbar area


I hope that helps just a little. If you have questions or tips on what people might use in their user columns, help us out in the comments.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Leonieke Net | Managing your TBR pile with Calibre | Link
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 06:23:45

    […] Managing your TBR pile with Calibre | […]

  2. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 08:24:39

    I’m of the KISS mentality. So I have one extra column in Calibre, which is a yes/no one. Yes means I’ve read it, No means it was a DNF. If it’s not checked, it means I haven’t read it yet.
    For my ARCs, I add “ARC” to the tags. I tend to get rid of most of the tags, and just add what I want, usually just the genre and the month of release. If you do it in the tags, it’s readable in just about any reader app, and transfers between them, too.
    That’s why, when I add notes, I don’t use the reader notetaking ability, I use Evernote, which is accessible from every reader app I have, and every device. It means I can do the notes as I go along, and then access them from my computer later, when I want to write them up.
    And I’m getting addicted to that slidey keyboard in Android!

  3. Darlynne
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 09:38:45

    I keep things simple, too, but then my reading needs aren’t as extensive as yours (notes, reviewing, etc.). Getting the metadata has helped especially with covers for books from B&N; most of them don’t come across with the covers, but Calibre can find it, along with everything else.

    Because (as far as I can tell) there isn’t an automated import process yet for PCs as there is for Macs, the Date column is most useful for me. When sorted by date, ascending to descending, I can tell which titles I’ve already imported and then look for anything in the various download folders after the latest date.

    One thing I’ve wondered about that you may be able to answer, Jane, is the question of donating to the Calibre developer. I made a donation when I first downloaded the program; any recommendations for how often and how much I should continue to donate? I really appreciate his efforts, but have been unsure what would be appropriate.

    Thanks for your efforts in untangling our TBRs.

  4. Karin Anderson
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 09:53:50

    I have never heard of this and must admit I had no idea what you were talking about. So, of course, I Googled it. :-D I have the same problem with my books, so this will be a fantastic tool. Thank you!

  5. Lynn M
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 09:57:10

    Silly question – do you use calibre to keep track of ALL of your books – hard copies as well as e-books? I’ve had calibre for a long time, but I’m just now dedicating myself to getting to know how to use it and importing my e-books. I have an old Sony e-reader, my daughter has a Kindle, and I also have a Nook so we have e-books coming from three different sources. I’m finally at the point where I need a central place to consolidate them. That said, I also have piles and piles (and piles!) of paper to-be-reads. I use Goodreads to inventory all of my books, but I’d love to have a TBR only option. Since you aren’t physically importing anything into calibre with a physical book, can you do this?

  6. Keishon
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:14:47

    I’m still tweaking mine. I have a read column (yes, no) and year read column (mm:dd:year) My original intention with the year read was to track how long it took me to read a book with a start date and end date. Nothing significant. Like the month published bit, thanks for these ideas.

  7. Jane
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:15:02

    @Darlynne: There is a donate button “support calibre” on the upper right corner – look for the blue tab.

    @Lynn M: Yes, absolutely. I did a screencast on this once. Why a screencast? I have no idea. But there is a corresponding text for those who don’t want to watch the screencast.

  8. Dabney
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:20:36

    Thanks to Jane, I’ve used Calibre to keep track of my books for the past two years. One of the things I like about it is that I keep every e-book I’ve ever downloaded on my computer but not on my reading devices (Kindle Paperwhite and an iPad). When I want to reread a book or find a scene, it’s easy to boot up my Mac and put the book back on my Kindle. I sort my books by Published Date in Calibre which makes it easy to keep track of what I need to read for review.

    One of the bad things about the Paperwhite is that it doesn’t import or export the collections one makes. This was a change from earlier Kindles. For a while, I floundered, not having an easy way to keep track of books on both my Kindle and Calibre. Last spring, I began altering the names of the book titles by adding the date published to them.

    So, in Calibre and on my Kindle and iPad a book title that used to read “The Burning Sky” now reads “The Burning Sky (09/17/2013).” You can do this from the Calibre main screen or in the Metadata screen. This has made it incredibly easy to keep track of books across platforms. When I download my books to my Kindle, I create a collection for that month. Currently, I have collections for every month of 2013 and the first three months of 2014. I do the same in iBooks (I’ve recently started using Marvin which I like although I wish it allowed one to easily download Goodreads rankings like Calibre.)

    After I read a book, if I think it’s a keeper, I put it in one of my keeper categories. (Ballin’ Bodice Rippers; Bad Guys, True Love, Hot Sex; etc…) If it’s not a keeper, I take it off my reading devices while leaving it on Calibre. I have a Calibre column for Read/Not Read but I rarely use it.

    One of the things I like about this system is that I don’t have to be online or attached to my desktop to see my organized books.

    I’m working to better understand how to use Marvin–I just figured out how to pin reviews to a book so that I can easily see a book’s Goodreads page even if I’m off line. I’d love to hear if anyone else is using Marvin and Calibre and, if so, if they have any pointers.

  9. Darlynne
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:22:02

    @Jane: Yes, and I’ve used it. Kovid Goyal updates the program all the time and Calibre is worth a lot to me, but what is appropriate? Typically, purchased software is paid for once; is this the same? My question was about how often and how much.

    ETA: Thanks for the Belvedere link.

  10. Jane
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:22:04

    @Darlynne: Forgot, Brian did a post on using Belvedere to automate tasks with Calibre

  11. Diane P
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:59:03

    I have a 2nd Gen Kindle, laptop, & an IPad which I do most of my reading on. Several questions:
    What do you do with an Ipad? Doesn’t seem like I can download Calibre because of the Flash issue.
    Do you downLoad Calibre to your laptop? Then connect your IPad?

  12. Dabney
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 11:07:47

    @Diane P: Yes. Currently, there is no Calibre for iPads. But, Calibre works with iTunes. If you change the metadata of your books in Calibre and then, in iTunes, add the files from your Calibre library, it will import your metadata and your books. The titles and categories will show up in iBooks.

    Calibre has a great message board where people ask and answer questions. If you need more detailed help, you can find it there.

  13. Diane P
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 11:19:05

    I thought Jane was going to wrangle with Amazon to give us better features. ;)

  14. Dee
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 11:31:52

    I absolutely LOVE Calibre. I have used it for years, and don’t remember how I lived without it. I made custom columns for “My Rating” (1-5 stars) , “Price” (which is what I paid), “Read With” (with choices for nook, Kindle, Goodreader, etc.) and a column that tells me if it’s not an ebook (hardcover, paperback).

    Also love changing the font colors in preferences–default black (already read), bright blue (haven’t read yet), green (pre-ordered), red (DNF) fuscia (books I want to buy in the future) etc.

    With one click you can re-organize by title, author, date purchased, series, etc.

    Lordy…the possibilities are infinite!

    I also use Automator to automatically load downloaded ebooks into Calibre.

    I have 5,000+ ebooks, and without Calibre I would go insane.

  15. Deljah
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 12:07:28

    I use calibre as well, and I love it! I’ve amassed 8,000+ ebooks that I plan to read before I die – guaranteed immortality, lol! Anyway, I buy most books from Amazon, so I send them to Kindle for PC and then import them into calibre. (If I buy from elsewhere, I still download to my pc and proceed). I convert the books to epub format (b/c the file size is smaller and format is accessible across many reading apps), import metadata and then tag by my own categories. The tags that come in through the metadata import always need cleaning up.

    I use the Reading List plugin in calibre to track the books I am most interested in reading next. Speaking of plugins, I have heard that some people also use another plugin to strip DRM automatically on import. This plugin is external to calibre, but I have heard that it can be found and added in.

    Finally, I use the calibre2opds and dropbox combo to create an online visual catalog of my books. I only update it every once and a while through. Since I usually know what I want to read next, I typically just download directly from dropbox where ever I am. Once I read a book, I delete it from calibre unless I know I might re-read (b/c space limitations). I use goodreads to track my ratings of read books and some tbr books.

  16. Statch
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 14:34:23

    @Darlynne — I’ve struggled with the same thing about donating to the Calibre developers, since they spend all that time on it and it’s free. I typically donate $25 or so a few times a year…when I’m downloading an update and realize it’s been a while since I donated. I think they appreciate anything someone wants to give. It is definitely worth it to me.

    I’ve been using Calibre for years to organize all my ebooks bought from a variety of sources. It was really helpful to be able to keep all my ebooks together when I switched from ePub to the Kindle a few years ago. I use an unread tag to manage my TBR list, and just remove the tag when I’ve read the book. I use a custom column to keep brief comments.

    There’s a Calibre forum on and the people are very helpful. Remember — if you’re keeping it only on one computer, backups are important! (I use Sugarsync – similar to Dropbox — to keep a copy in the cloud.)

  17. library addict
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 15:58:00

    @Darlynne: I donate several times a year as well. They come up with new features and tweaks for Calibre every week. And though I don’t use all of them, it’s not as if the program I downloaded in 2009 is the same program I use today (even though in many ways it is, they’ve added so much). So the get once/pay once “rule” doesn’t really apply IMO.

    I usually update my version every other release, so that’s twice a month. I don’t donate every time though. It’s my understanding that Kovid works on Calibre as his full-time job. But there are also many others who donate their time. And they give away this wonderful software for free. I try to think of it terms of what would I would be willing to pay for it if I had to. But donating once, multiple times, or not at all is left totally up to the individual.

  18. Milly
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 16:00:58

    Oh boy, now I have another project on my plate. I was wondering how to create a rating system on Calibre for me and now I have it! 1400 ebooks now to rate…

  19. Ros
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 17:59:33

    @Dabney: Wow. Now I’m even more glad I went for a second hand Kindle keyboard rather than the Paperwhite. I would cry if I lost my collections. Why do they keep ‘upgrading’ to less functional versions of the Kindle?

  20. Dabney
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 18:38:51

    @Ros: It’s silly. The Paperwhite’s Collections are inaccessible from any outside source. Among other things, that means, if you ever have to reformat the thing, the Collections are lost. It’s caused me to move towards more iPad reading.

  21. Kassiah
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 20:29:29

    Great article as usual, Jane. I appreciate you letting us know all of these tips about Calibre. It’s certainly made my life better!

  22. Sandra
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 21:29:24

    I have tried a number of times to use calibre and my problem is actually getting my books into/uploaded to calibre.. I need to try again, because it couldn’t be as hard as I think.

    Can I give calibre access to download my Amazon ebook purchases? That would be awesome! Or why can’t the kindle fire have cataloging and organization?

  23. Alison Robinson
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 03:41:07

    HI, I love Calibre. I have about 5,000 ebooks on Calibre to use with my Kindles (mine froze once and the 48 hours until Amazon shipped a replacement was the worst two days of my life – so now I have a spare which I can download my current reading list to). I just tag things as “read”, “not on Kindle” or “3G Kindle” then sub-categorise as “fiction”, “non-fiction” etc.

    @Sandra: On the top of my Calibre screen I have an icon for my “Device” which shows you what is on your Kindle/Kobo/whatever. Anything without a tick hasn’t been put onto your device. Highlight them all, right click, hit add to library and they will all be copied into Calibre. You may then need to edit the metadata individually as described above to get covers, series details and blurb. Calibre also has ways to set up so that, after deleting the original book from the device you can resave to the device with the series details eg Dark-Hunters – 05 – Kiss of the Night – that way you can read the books in order.

    Jane – how can you synch Calibre to your Goodreads account?

  24. Laurla
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 05:02:38

    There are a couple of plug-ins that can be used to manage collections on the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s not perfect, does require that you jailbreak your Kindle and whenever Amazon upgrades the software, there is a risk the new version won’t be compatible with the plug-ins (Amazon does this on purpose – evil Amazon), but the awesome developers are always working on it. Go to to read about it. It can be confusing, but once you set it up, you really don’t need to again – unless the software upgrade from Amazon makes it incompatible – I guard against this by leaving my PW in airplane mode so that there is no automatic push from Amazon to the PW.

  25. JJPP
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 10:34:14

    This makes my brain hurt. :) I’m very impressed — by Jane’s post, as well as all the follow up comments — but don’t know where to start. Eek!

    I have Calibre; I don’t use it, but I’m always meaning to figure it out. I have ebooks from Nook, Kindle, and Kobo, as well as ePubs from ARE and publishers’ websites. I hate having them all over the place, but it seems so daunting to figure out how to get them all together. Have you done a more basic Calibre post about how to start using it — importing all your ebooks from different platforms and then moving forward?

    Do I need to buy books from my desktop on the computer where I have Calibre and download all of them to PC in order for it to organize them? I buy a lot of ebooks at work (to download directly to my nook or kindle), directly from my nook Simple Touch, and from my Nook & Kindle apps on my android tablet. But I never buy them from my home laptop, where I have Calibre loaded.

    Thanks for all this!

  26. Dabney
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 13:03:03

    @Alison Robinson: I know there’s a plug-in to download Goodreads metadata, but I haven’t figured out a way to download my Goodreads metadata. That would be great to do.

  27. Alison Robinson
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 14:49:31

    @Dabney: @Dabney:

    I found it – it’s a plug in!

  28. Dabney
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 14:50:41

    @Alison Robinson: Does it download your ratings? Because that would be awesome.

  29. Alison Robinson
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 14:57:17

    @Dabney: @Dabney:

    I think so – it looks quite complicated so I’m gonna have to read the help carefully

  30. Dabney
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 16:24:23

    @Alison Robinson: So I’ve spent the past two hours working on it. I’ve got the date read column syncing and the ratings column syncing. I don’t see any way to have two ratings columns which is what I’d really like. I’d like my GR rating and the general GR rating. If you figure out how to do that, let me know!

  31. library addict
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 16:42:04

    @JJPP: I thought Jane had a how to set up blog post from a few years ago, but I haven’t found it.

    There are some demos and tutorials on Calibre’s website which may help.

  32. Jane
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 16:42:51

    @library addict: I thought I had done one too but apparently not. I guess I know what I’ll be writing about on Sunday!

  33. JJPP
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 21:13:24

    @Jane: Awesome! I guess I know what I’ll be doing Sunday night!

    Don’t you ever throw your hands up and say, “I give, and I give, and I give! What more do these people WANT from me!?” :)

  34. Jane
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 21:15:29

    @JJPP: Nah, I’m actually grateful for the topics but I do think I give out more customer support for ebooks than say Kobo or BN!

  35. Willaful
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 21:22:47

    @Jane: Having used the customer support of both, I’d say indubitably!

  36. Preeti
    Aug 20, 2013 @ 10:43:14

    @library addict: I’ve often thought about donating more than once, too, but you guys who donate several times _a year_ are blowing me away. My one-time donation several years ago was a paltry $20. One recent hesitation to follow up is because I’m wondering whether the (soon-forthcoming?) non-beta version of Calibre might be made available on a yearly subscription basis? i.e., you pay for a year’s worth of upgrades at a time? I would totally support that model as a way to funnel money to the developers. But if they keep it free, then I’ll be making more voluntary donations for sure. I guess I’m waiting to see what they’ll do with the 1.0 version.

  37. Un cestino di link per agosto che se n’è andato | Rien à faire
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 09:53:05

    […] Nuovi lettori ebook (e tablet) da Kobo. Su Goodereader è già uscito il confronto tra il nuovo Aura e Paperwhite, e mentre si discute sulla validità di queste nuove proposte aggiungo a questa wish list le cose che vorrei io da Kobo: un Kobo mini con backlight, documenti personali sincronizzati su tutti i dispositivi come con Kindle e un miglior servizio clienti (in particolare una procedura automatica per restituire gli ebook). Il minimo, o non mi sposto. […]

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