I have a problem. I suspect it's one a lot of you reading this have as well. The epic TBR pile. I have had this problem for many years and it only seems to get worse with time. In most aspects of my life, I'm a minimalist. With books, I'm a gimme-gimme, more-more-more person. And now that I'm an author, not only do I have to deal with my own out of control book purchases. Now I get FREE books at conferences--lots of them. Lots of bright, shiny new books just brimming with stories. That kid inside me who used to think trips to the library were better than trips to the mall can't resist. Books, books, everywhere! And that's only the print books. The ebook one-clicking is out of control, too, because Awesome Looking Book + Sale = Roni having a twitch in her index finger. Click!
So what has that left me with? A TBR pile that stands at about 500 e-books and 300 print books. Yeah. It's a problem.
And I'm a visual person so if something is not in front of my face, I forget about it. That ebook that is 7 pages in on my Kindle? It may as well not exist. And even if I go scrolling through, then I've forgotten why I bought it. What's it's about again? And my Kindle doesn't make it all that quick to get the blurb. So that book gets passed by for the newest, freshest in my mind book. Meanwhile, great books languish in the pile. Same with print books. Once it's on a shelf, I kind of forget about it.
So last weekend, I decided to do some research on how to tame the beastly TBR pile. The most obvious solution touted everywhere is "Get rid of most of your books since you probably won't get to them anyway." Yeah, let's not talk crazy now. I am all for doing a yearly culling of print books. There are libraries and Goodwills that happily take books. But the only ones I part with are the ones I've read that didn't make it onto my keeper shelves and ones that I've accepted I'll never read (maybe I got it free, maybe it was an impulse buy, maybe I read another of the author's and didn't love it.) But the ones I still have good reason to read, I keep those.
So the next obvious advice you see everywhere is "Stop buying new books." Uh, yeah. That's not going to happen either. First, I want to support the industry I'm in and the authors I love. Buying books helps the health of booklandia and helps insure that those authors I love keep writing and those series I adore continue on. Plus, books are my main indulgence. A girl has to impulse buy something, right? ; )
Which meant--I still didn't know how to handle this outrageous TBR pile. And the articles I read didn't really give me any tips that resonated with me. I did like the idea of the TBR jar, where you write all the titles down on slips of paper and put them in a jar then randomly pull one out. But I promise you, there's no way I'm sitting down and writing out 700 slips of paper. Not gonna happen. This is probably a solution for someone who has a TBR pile of say--30 books.
So where did that leave me? I wanted a way to randomize my choices. I have my books tracked in Goodreads, but that doesn't help me CHOOSE what to read. Which means, I inevitably choose the newest thing. I wish my e-reader or Goodreads had a "Surprise Me" or randomizing feature, but it doesn't. So I wanted to figure out a way that helped me randomize things but also left a little flexibility for choice/mood.
Enter the concept of multi-level categories and a few office supplies. And if you know me, you know I love office supplies. : )
This is going to be personal to everyone because we all read different things. But here's what I decided to go with for my little random Pick-a-Book game. I made three levels of categories.
- Genre or sub-genre
- When I purchased the book. (Current year or Before current year)
I made color-coded index cards for each of the three categories and wrote one index card for each of the sub-categories.
Pink cards (genre) : Erotic Romance, Contemporary Romance, Non-Fiction, Thriller, New Adult, General Fiction/Women's Fiction, Historical Romance, YA Contemporary, YA Paranormal/Horror, Suspense, Paranormal/Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Horror
Orange cards (format): Ebook, Trade paperback, Mass market paperback, Hardcover
Purple cards (age): Old (pre-2015) and New (2015)
So now when it comes time to read my next book, I'm going to pick one card from each category. That gives me what I need to read next: New Suspense Ebook or whatever. And if you're crafty, I'm sure you can get decorative with this. I didn't need fancy just functional so mine is pretty bare bones.
But what about the organization?
You may be thinking--yeah, category cards are great but then I'll have to cull through all my books to find that. No. That's where the organization comes in. This takes a little work upfront but will make things loads easier once it's done. You'll need to organize your books by whatever your Top-Level Category is. Your top level is the one that is most important to you and ideally has the most subcategories. My top-level category is genre. So I needed to organize my books library-style by genre.
For print: I grouped together the genres, often giving them each their own shelf. This will make it easy to grab, say, a YA Contemporary if that's what I pick with my cards.
For ebook: Do the same thing on your e-device if yours has the ability to make folders or categories. I made a category/folder on my kindle for each of the genres I listed. Then, one night while watching TV, I went through all 500 of my books and sorted them into the correct folders. Yes, it took time. But no, it wasn't hard and it's a relatively passive activity while you're hanging out. Also, it helped categorize books whose genre I couldn't pinpoint based on cover alone (and God knows, I didn't remember the blurb.) Now, instead of everything organized by New and Shiny first, I have genre folders, which is nice and feeds my visual self. And if your e-reader or phone doesn't allow for categories, you can do this on one of the book sites like Goodreads or Booklikes.
Now you're all set. And it's up to you whether you remove cards from rotation each time. Like if you want to give each genre a fair shake, you can put the suspense card aside once you've read a suspense book. Or you can even shuffle and pull 10 different combos in a row. Then you can make a list of the next ten books you're going to read. Whatever works for you.
What if my categories don't fit you? For instance, what if you only read thrillers or only read ebooks? Then you can come up with different randomizing categories.
Some suggestions for alternative or additional categories:
- Year of publication
- Length (short story, novella, novel, doorstop)
- Alphabet as the random factor (then you have to choose a book or author that starts with whatever letter you pulled)
- Color (This works better for print but you could pull random colors and then have to find a cover that has that color.)
What if you don't want to go through the organizing but still want to randomize your choices? Here are a few "hacks":
- Choose a random page in your e-reader and select a book off that page or sort by author to rearrange the order and get new books on that first page.
- Find a Reading Challenge that gives you a list to tackle. For instance, the Push Your Boundaries challenge I created last year is an easy place to start.
- Sort your TBR pile by a random category like ISBN number in Goodreads. Just go to your list of to-read books, click settings, and it will let you sort by all kinds of things. Then you can select the book that comes up first. (This, of course, assumes that you've entered your TBR already into Goodreads. If you read ebooks from Amazon, it does sync with your account and you can load the books automatically, which is how I did mine. So this captures my ebook TBR more than print.)
One extra tip: Don't be a chronic finisher. If you have hundreds of books in your pile, don't waste your time with one that isn't working for you. I find that when I force myself to finish reading something I'm not feeling, it slows down ALL of my reading because I keep putting it down and won't let myself move on to something else. I try to give books 3 chapters or about 50 pages. I know that's more generous than some, but I've found books that have been slow starters that have turned out to be great. However, if I hit page fifty and am still not feeling excited about it, it goes into the donation pile. Life's too short and my TBR pile is too long.
So that's what I'm going to be using to see if I can be more systematic in my reading selections. I know there are some fantastic, amazing books languishing in my pile, and I'm hoping this will bring them back to the front of the line. I'll let you know how it goes.
How do you handle your TBR pile? Are you as overwhelmed as I am? Any tips to share? I'd love to hear from you!