Columns > Published on January 4th, 2019

New Year, New Queue: Taming that TBR

So many of us booklovers end up with out of control “to be read” stacks/lists. We want to read ALL THE THINGS, but unfortunately, I’ve yet to come across a time-stretching machine that allows five times the reading to fit into a single day. (Dibs on that TM, though.) So maybe this New Year is the time to start fresh(er). Whether you use Goodreads, an old-school notebook, a library holds system, or just stacks and stacks of books you probably shouldn’t have bought, I’ll offer some organization tips to cut out the clutter and allow the books you really want to read to shine.

Speed + Schedule

There are two theories to organization. 1) Tackle it all at once so you knock it out quickly. 2) Split it up into smaller steps so it’s less overwhelming. I’ve always been a method one kind of girl, but that’s just my M.O. You might not have a full Saturday you can set aside to organize all of your books. If not, then maybe the “ten minutes a night” type of approach is more realistic for your lifestyle. Whichever you decide to go with, scheduling is key to following through. Pick a day or time of day and stick to it.

Plan + Rule

swapping by Seika

You can’t just start pulling random books off your shelf and throwing them in the middle of the floor—unless you know how you’re then going to deal with your new book mountain. Daunting tasks like this usually go smoothly if you set up a plan and do your best to stick to it. Do you want to pull every book you haven’t read yet? Just the ones you know you don’t want to read? Just the ones you know you do want to read? Just the ones you’ve already finished? The one that makes the most sense will depend on what type of TBR-adder and -finisher you are.

Setting up rules is a good idea too, because you’re obviously a book lover, and book lovers love books so hard we find ways to make exceptions. Guess what an out of control TBR is made up of? Exceptions. So before you get to the actual sorting and culling, decide where your lines are. For example, if you’ve had a book for more than five years and never picked it up, those are definite goners. Or maybe all gifted books that just aren’t the right fit for you are going, no matter who gave them to you. Other can-go book options: ones you’ve read but won’t re-read, ones you'd groan about if you had to read right now, ones you picked up because someone told you you 'had to,' ones you can't remember why you have them. Whatever rules you set up, follow them to a T to get your tightest new TBR.


The hard part. Actually deciding which books don’t need to stay in/on your TBR. I like the all-at-once method because I can get into a mental groove where I stop letting emotions rule and just make practical decisions. But whether you do it in one marathon or spread it out, the key is to stick to your plan and rules as much as possible. One thing I tell myself to really clean up my stack is this: I can always re-add a book, or even re-buy it. Kicking it out of the stack can be for now, if I turn out to be wrong. But what I’ve found is this: I almost never miss a book I’ve decided to let go. There are too many others tugging at my coattails for me to mourn one I wasn’t genuinely excited about. So sort with severity; it’ll really help you find the books you’re pumped about. And if you've gone too far? You can always add that book back later.

Sell, Donate, Give

SML Books by See-ming Lee

If your TBR is all written or digital, congrats: you get to skip a step! If you now have an epic stack of books to get rid of, you’ll need to, well, get rid of them. If you have a good used bookstore nearby, that’s always my first stop. I mean, money to buy more books bigger bookshelves is always a good thing. If I can’t sell them, I’ll either donate them or give them away to individuals who might want them. Lots of used bookstores will donate the ones they won’t buy for you after the sale, or you can find charities, etc. who will take them, or list them for free on apps like Letgo.

Order + Display

You’ve finished the hard part—saying goodbye to some beloved items—so you've earned some fun! Now you get to reorganize your new TBR “stack.” That might mean making an actual stack or ten, or filling up a shelf, or just re-ordering the books on your Goodreads shelf. How you organize and display them is totally up to you. Like a plan? Put them in TBR order! Need some flexibility? Sorting by author, title, or genre are all tried and true. Want a little whimsy? Mix them up and pick at random, or create a system where you draw which one to read next from a jar, etc. (Now that you’ve gotten rid of the books that were weighing you down, any one you pull up should be exciting.) The options are as limitless as your creativity!

Whether you’re trying to pick out the exact 52 books you want to read in 2019 or are simply trying to whittle your collection down from over a thousand, hopefully you’ve found a tip or two you can use here today.

Have your own system? Feel free to share in the comments. When was the last time you tried to tame your TBR?

About the author

Annie Neugebauer likes to make things as challenging as possible for herself by writing horror, poetry, literary, and speculative fiction—often blended together in ways ye olde publishing gods have strictly forbidden. She’s a two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author with work appearing and forthcoming in more than a hundred publications, including magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Apex, and Black Static, as well as anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 3 & 4 and #1 Amazon bestsellers Killing It Softly and Fire. She’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and in addition to LitReactor, a columnist for Writer Unboxed. She’s represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. She needs to make new friends because her current ones are tired of hearing about House of Leaves. You can visit her at for news, poems, organizational tools for writers, and more.

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