Organizing my Kindle (using Calibre)

Get past a few dozen books in your Kindle and you start to feel the need for some organization.

I have hundreds of ebooks, which I’ve collected over the years, primarily for reading on my computers.  When I bought a Kindle (3rd edition) last year, I started to convert my ebooks into Kindle-friendly formats (prc, mobi, azw).  My first attempts used Mobipocket Creator to (mostly) convert pdf files to prc format [Yes, I am aware that the Kindle 3 can handle pdf files – you just need a magnifying glass to read some of them.].  This was usually successful, but some pdf files gave prc files with broken paragraphs, sentences and even words.  Some dialog formatting made it difficult to tell when the speaker had changed.

Then I tried Calibre to see if I could get better file conversions.  Not only did I get better conversion results, but Calibre proved to be a much more feature-filled program than I expected.  It creates a database of your ebook files complete with info, tags, cover images and plot summaries.  It includes a communication link to your USB-attached Kindle – marking the books in your collection that are currently loaded on the Kindle.  It can convert from and to many formats and it allows you to customize the conversion options.  You can convert one book file at a time or use bulk conversion for all selected books.  It can download files/feeds from dozens of news sources in Kindle compatible Article format.  It can send books to, or receive books from your Kindle.  The program creator (Kovid Goyal) seems to be releasing updates about once every week or two.  As donation ware it is a surprisingly full-featured application.

With my ebook files in a Calibre database on my computer (and backed up on my network) I don’t need to have all of my books on the Kindle.  However, I still have over 100 files on the Kindle, giving me about 12 home pages worth.  My scheme to organize them is to use the collections feature.  So far I have just four collections:

1 Reference
2 Books to re-read
3 Books finished reading
4 News and feeds

I put the Kindle manual and dictionaries in the “Reference” collection.  When I finish a book I move it into the “finished reading” collection.  I set the Kindle to “organize by collections”.

When I want to add books from my big collection, I start up Calibre and convert (usually from epub or pdf to mobi format) and transfer into the Kindle.  While I’m hooked up, I take the opportunity to download news articles (they automatically transfer to the Kindle).

Organizing the big collection in Calibre is most easily done using the “Tags” feature of the program.  If you used the “get metadata” download to get the book information (plot summary, publisher, series, etc.), then you most likely already have tags for the books.  Using the tags to filter books displays only those books with the tag.   The built-in help describes a method of using tags to create sub-categories (like “History/Military”) for a further level of organization. These tags or other book information can be used with a Calibre plugin to create and manage Kindle collections.  But that’s a story best told in its own post.

If you are like me and have ebooks on your computer or in various formats, then I highly recommend using Calibre with your Kindle.


6 thoughts on “Organizing my Kindle (using Calibre)

  1. I just downloaded Calibre on to my PC. I can not figure out how to get the books that are on my Kindle 3 downloaded into the Calibre software. Can you help me? I am not very computer savy so I’m afraid that you will have to explain very simply so that I can understand. Thanks.

    • (1) Start Calibre, (2) Hook up your Kindle to the computer with the USB cable (3) wait 10-20 sec for the Kindle to be recognized by Calibre (a new toolbar button “Device” will appear on the Calibre toolbar. (4) click the little side arrow on the “Device” button and choose “Show books in the main memory of the device”. A list of the books on your Kindle will be shown. (5) Right click any book in the list (or select several books first) and choose “Add books to library”. Some copy-protection schemes for books may interfere with this process. We just have to live with that.

  2. hi, how do you make the tags in calibre appear as collections in kindle?
    for example, books tagged as “fiction” will be sent to kindle under “fiction” collection…

    • Hook up your Kindle to the computer and start calibre. From the Kindle Collections toolbar button in calibre choose “Customize Collections..” Look for “Tags” in the Calibre Source column of the popup and set the “Action” drop-down to “Create”. In that same row scroll over to the right to the “Include Names matching these patterns” column and type in your match text (“fiction”, in your example). Click the OK button to close the popup. Then back to the Kindle Collections toolbar only this time choose “Create Collections on the Kindle”. That should do the trick.

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