How to Manage and Sort Your Kindle eBooks

Amazon’s eBooks can’t be catalogued like in a normal library, but they have an even better way of sorting and organizing them, instead.

 

If you’re like me, you’ve slowly been accumulating the number of eBooks you have in your Kindle account.  What with monthly free books as a result of Prime membership, other books featured/promoted at very low prices that you’ve chosen to buy, Bookbub deals, and everything else, you probably now have a mix of books you’ve read, books you’ve half read, books you’ve never read, others you’ve bought for “just in case” reference, and everything else imaginable.

In my case, I’ve over 300 different titles in my Kindle account.  That makes it very difficult to find a particular book, especially if needing to page through over 50 pages of listings on a Kindle eReader, showing a mere six titles per page.

Managing the books you have is a surprisingly weak element of the Kindle eBook system.  You’d think Amazon would create the best possible way of helping you manage your books, because surely they want to encourage you to get value from your Kindle titles and to encourage you to buy more.  But someone seems to have dropped the ball, because their interface/management tools are clunky and definitely do not scale well, and the more titles you have, the harder it is to find your way through them.  Rather than encouraging you to buy more, you are increasingly discouraged as your number of titles owned grows.

On a Kindle device, you can sort only three ways – by titles, by author, or by when you bought the book, and even more ridiculously, you can only sort from A to Z or from most recent to oldest.  You can’t reverse sort.  So if you’re looking for something you bought a long time ago, or an author/title beginning with a letter towards the end of the alphabet, you’re out of luck.

You can also use the search feature if you can remember some of a book’s title or author.  But remember that you are searching primarily only the books that you have downloaded onto your device.  If you have recent purchases that you haven’t yet downloaded to your device, then the search will not show those, although if you look carefully, at the bottom of the results you might notice a line saying “4 more items in the Cloud” (or whatever the number is) – telling you there are other books you have matching the search string, but which you haven’t downloaded.

Manage Your Books on the Amazon Website

This brings us to the first suggestion.  The interface for sorting and selecting books is much better through Amazon’s website instead of on a Kindle device.  Whenever possible, everything is always better through their website.  We think that you can probably do everything on a Kindle device, or using the Kindle software on some other type of computer product, but generally the fastest and easiest way to do things is through Amazon’s main website.

When logged in to Amazon, go to “Accounts & Lists” on the top menu bar at the right, then choose “Your Content and Devices” from the drop down list of options that appears, and that will bring you to a listing of all your eBooks.  Instead of six titles per page, you get 200 per page, and you can now sort in both directions, rather than only one way.

Interestingly – and for this, you really have to wonder what Amazon is thinking – the interface is slightly better on an Apple iPad than it is on Amazon’s own Kindle eReaders.  It shows nine titles per page instead of six, and has one more sort option (publication date, although this is a close to useless option for things that have been published in multiple editions over the years).

Now for the good news.  There is a feature that can greatly help you manage and sort/categorize your books.

The Concept of Collections

Amazon offers a way to make it easier to manage your books.  It is the little-explained “collection” feature.  You can sort your books into collections.  For example, you might have Fiction and Non-Fiction collections.  You might have a “History” and a “Biography” collection.  You might have a collection for a specific author.  And so on.

There are two important things to understand when it comes to using collections.

The first is a limitation.  Collections can’t be nested within other collections.  So, for example, you couldn’t have a collection “Non Fiction” and then when you open it up, you have collections within it such as “Biography” and “History” and so on – collections within “History” for “Ancient History”, “American History”, and whatever else, and continuing further through a “tree” of nested collections within collections which are in turn within higher level collections, for many levels/layers.

That is a problem of sorts, because the concept of increasingly specific cataloguing is essential to most library systems (the Dewey Decimal system in particular).

But now for the other aspect of collections.  One book can be in many different collections, simultaneously.  So don’t think of collections as being “what shelf in the library do I store/find this book” but rather “what subjects do I have catalog cards for this book in my index”.  More technically, think of collections as “tags” that can be applied to books.

So, back to the example of nested collections (not possible) what you could do instead is have multiple collections tagged on the one book.  A book about the founding of California might be tagged under Non-Fiction, History, American History, and maybe also under Geography, US Geography, and who knows what else as well.

Adding collection tags is a great way to sort your books.  You can think a bit like a librarian and have similar sets of tags for subjects in the case of non-fiction and genre tags in the case of fiction, plus author tags which makes it much quicker and easier to see everything you have by a particular author (this is useful if you have more than, say, half a dozen books by the one author).

You can also add totally different tags that aren’t used by libraries.  You can have a tag for finished books you have read and don’t want to read again, another for books you have read but would like to read again, another for books you have started reading but have not finished, and even one for new books you’ve not yet started to read.  Maybe one for books you liked and another for books you don’t like.  One for “books to recommend to my friends who also like golf” or anything else at all that makes sense and would be helpful.

You can add a book to a collection at any time, and remove it from the collection subsequently.  So you don’t need to place a great deal of thought into a collection structure; the best thing to do is to start with one or two obvious collection topics for the books you have, and start adding books to those, and then create more collections as you think of them.  If you have many hundreds of titles, the thought of adding them all to multiple collections is of course a daunting concept, so it is better to do a little, regularly, and make progress that way, rather than set yourself a gargantuan task that never gets started!

Creating Collections

From the Home page of a Kindle eReader, choose the three dots on the right, and at the bottom of the drop down menu is an option for “Create New Collection”.  Choose that, give your collection a name, and on the next page you can add books to your new collection or just choose “Done” and add books subsequently.

Alternatively, through the Your Content and Devices page on the website, on the content tab, choose Show Collections and you’ll see an option underneath to create a new collection.

I myself have 23 different collections at present.  There does come a point, probably, where it is possible to have too many collections, and if you find that some of your collections have only one or two books within them, possibly you should re-define the collection categories to make them broader.  But there’s not really any wrong answer, and anything you do can subsequently be changed or undone, so experiment every which way and find what works best for you.

How to Add or Remove Books to Collections

On your Kindle, when looking at the books in Your Library, if you press and hold on a title, that brings up a menu with options that includes “Add to Collection” and you can then choose which collections you’d like to add it to.  You can also remove books from collections the same way.

We find it quicker and easier though to do all this from the Your Content and Devices page on Amazon’s website.  Even that is not without its pinpricks of annoyance, however.  The drop down list of collections to choose from is not in alphabetical order, but seems random and probably is based on when you created each collection.  When you’ve a fairly long list of collections to scroll through, not having them in alphabetical order is yet one more unnecessary pain point.

We never cease marveling at how Amazon has done such an incredibly bad job of designing its interface for managing your eBook collections.  At least some years ago, promoting eBooks was one of Amazon’s key strategic initiatives, but they didn’t really think it all the way through.  We know Amazon can do a great job of designing interfaces – look at their main “selling” site – but when it comes to their Kindle service, clearly it was assigned only to the “B team” (or the “C/D/E team”).

Check the collections you wish the book to be tagged with, and uncheck the collections you no longer wish to tag the book with.

Adding Collections to Your Reading Devices

Can we again repeat our observation that Amazon’s Kindle interface is astonishingly bad.  Once you’ve created a collection of books, you then have to separately download the collection to your device(s).  There’s no way to do this automatically, nor can you do it from the website interface.  You have to go to each device you have, and separately download, one by one, whichever collections you want onto that device.

Amazon apparently never thought that if you created collections, you’d then want to be able to access and use them on your various devices.

On your device, go to Your Library and choose All, then filter by Collections, then download the Collections you want by clicking the three dots in the bottom right of each collection that you want to download.  That’s a tiresome and unnecessary process, all the more so because it appears to be automated on the iPad Kindle software.

Viewing Collections and the Books Within Them

To view a collection on a Kindle eReader, from Your Library choose Sort, and then check the Collection option.  You can then scroll through your collections, and touch a collection folder to open it and see the books you have tagged and belong to that collection.

On the website, with “Content” chosen, select to show “Collections” and you can then click on any collection to open it up and see the books within it.

Note there is an option to delete a collection or to rename it.  That is fairly self-explanatory, but in case you were concerned, if you delete a collection, you do not delete the books within it.  The books stay, they just no longer have a tag for the now deleted collection attached to them.

Summary

You can make it easier to sort and select your eBooks if you create a series of collections.  You can then selectively add your books to these collections.  Each book can be added to as many different collections as you choose, and of course removed from collections too.

We suggest you start with a few collections, and add to them as and when you think of new collection ideas, and simply add the books to the collections as and when you think of it, too.  That might be easier than making it into a mammoth must-do-all-at-once project!

However you do this, we’re sure you’ll find, as I have too, that using collections makes things much easier.

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