A Survey in my Inbox

I opened my e-mail in-box this morning and found a survey from Barnes and Noble and the Authors’ Guild. Would I like to participate? I considered it, started, and then began to get a little unhappy. I bailed out at the half-way point and will not continue.

The Authors’ Guild is interested in author publishing choices and incomes. I have no problem with the first part, although the lack of anonymity bothered me. You have to enter the title of your most recent book published under your own name, and later on you are asked about income. Right there, I got a little hesitant. What about those of us who only use a pen name/names?

I dropped out of the survey when they wanted relatively detailed income and expense information from several years. I understand why they want it. However, I do not care to have that sort of information out in the wild. General figures, certainly. “How much did you make last fiscal year?” Answer: not as much as I’d like. “How much do you plan to make this year?” Answer: More, G-d willing.Ā  When someone starts asking for net, gross, and so on, no, sorry.

One fascinating thing was the number of professional writers’ organizations you could choose from. At least twenty were shown, of which I’d only heard of five. Given that I don’t write literary fiction, it’s not a surprise that I would not have heard of the literary-author oriented groups.


*Edited to correct a detail, 6/21 at 1404.


    1. yep. one data breach and someone has far more of your financial information than they should…

    2. Yeah. Son had the cops visit school recently to give talk about cyberbullying and cybercrime. Some of the stuff they told the kids (who weren’t listening, except my son) were stuff like “Don’t tell people online that you’re going home alone, or that you’re home alone, don’t put your address online,” and such, because people can figure out where you are and anticipate your route home to snatch you, or beat you up, or so on. Son’s reaction was “Who’d be stupid enough to do that?”

      We had to explain to him that probably, the people in his class were likely stupid enough to do that, since they weren’t paying attention.

      (Housemate joked that perhaps the next time this happens, the kiddlet should say “I run a hardened Debian box and don’t trust anyone online or care what other people think.”)

      1. I wouldn’t have given addresses or anything, but after I looked up my dad’s uncle’s address in about three seconds (somehow, a phone book online was scary?) my mom required that I make a pseudonym.

        1. My Mom got all freaked out about their lack of online privacy many years ago because people could just put in an address and find out who lives there and what their phone number was, etc. When I pointed out they were listed in the public phone book and in the county’s public plat book, “Yeah, but that’s different.” Huh?

          1. To be looked up in a physical phone book, you have to be someone with access to the local phone book. To be looked up on the plat list, you again have to have access to it, and this may require physically visiting the county offices. The people who have that access, pre-internet, are either locals or have some pressing business to attend to at that office. Locals and people at the county office are of course much smaller groups of people than ‘people with access to the internet’. Living locally and visiting the county office are enough trouble that the people who will do them for reasons other than their own business are few. Folks crazy enough to put work in where they don’t need to and functional enough to avoid being locked up are few. Internet access is a lower barrier to access, more casually accessible, hence more likely for a crazy person to sustain interest doing the work to mess in someone else’s business.

            This is probably more instinctual than reasoned out.

  1. People are remarkably stupid about what they put on a questionnaire these days.

    1. Do you mean what questions they write into the questionnaire? Or what answers they are willing to give to questions that should never have been asked?

      I know, I know, embrace the healing power of “and”. šŸ™‚

      1. The questions on the questionnaire are stupid. If the questions are so inappropriate, (who puts their honest income on a fricking web questionnaire?) then huge numbers of people will of course lie, and the data will be worthless.

        There are undoubtedly stupid people answering the thing honestly, but that’s more a self-inflicted wound.

      2. Of course,it could be one of those questionnaires tailored to back up a plan someone has already decided to implement…

        “Our survey shows 100% of prison inmates support immediate and unsupervised parole!”

  2. Apparently Barnes & Noble’s corporate leaders are getting worried enough about the future of the company to begin doing research among writer’s organizations. The guy who heads the Texas Association of Authors (which are mostly indy and teeny local-press writers), Alan Bourgeois, was telling the membership a couple of weeks ago that he has been asked to meet with the C-level execs. Alan was asking us members about what our experiences with B&N had been, and what were our thoughts on what he should tell them.
    Probably too little and too late to rescue a corporation who has always been about working almost exclusively with the Big Publishers…

    1. Agreed. All the more reason the financial questions raised my eyebrows. I can see number of books sold, and general income “Less than $10,000; 25,000 to 10,000” type ball-park options, but not anything so specific.

      I hope there is space for learning and the B&N and Authors’ Guild leaders take advantage of it. I’d hate to see the regional B&N go away. But I’m not thrilled by the level of detail this particular survey aims at. As Foxfier says, that’s a lot of very sensitive information.

    2. “Hey! Why try to make money by taking a slice of the profit margin from $BIGPUB, and just print our own books? Then we keep all of it, less paying the printers!”

      “What about author royalties?”

      “Nah, we’ll just scope out the ones who look like they’re hobby authors and and offer a box of author copies for the rights.”

      “What about editing and marketing?”

      “Editing? Just use the grammar and spell checkers built into Word. Shouldn’t take more than a few minutes per book.”

      “I mean for style, and continuity, and facts, and…”

      “I don’t think you’re a team player.” [makes note] “The next Reduction-In-Workforce is in six weeks… you might want to put your desk in order.”

      1. That can’t be. The status quo in publishing is the most ethical and transparent in the entire history of business.

      2. Alas, I can see B&N doing exactly that …
        Why, yes, I have become a dreadfully cynical person regarding Big Media and Big Publishing over the last decade and a half. Why do you ask?

  3. I’m all for sharing information in order for everyone to grow. On the other hand, I’m not in favour of being so open-minded my brains fall out.

    With any survey, there’s always:
    1.) Who wants to know?
    2.) Who gets to see the raw data?
    3.) Who gets to see the finished data?
    4.) Why do they want to know?
    5.) What do they want to know?
    6.) How could this data be harmful if misused?

    If they’re not up front with 1-4, then it’s a no-go long before you get to 5. And even then, all data must be weighed in light of 6.

  4. “You gave out your personal info?”

    “Yeah, but look at the picture it gave me to share on Facebook!”

    1. The one that gets me is people who upload their contact information from their phone or computer, so that the app or network can find their friends.

      Then, they freak out because it’s suggesting possible friends they didn’t remember adding…never mind that if you’ve got three people who all have at least three email addresses in common, it’s a decent bet they MIGHT know each other.

  5. During the 2008 census we got an envelope marked “CENSUS” and a seven or eight page questionnaire, all very official-looking. It wanted the usual census information, and then detailed income information, how many bank accounts did we have, and where, and how much was in them, and questions about credit cards and balances, and how many cars we have, and how many miles were on each, and how far we drove to work, and…

    I’d *already* filled out the usual census short form, which I did in my usual fashion: number of lawful voting adults at this address: 2. That’s the limit of my Constitutional duty, and Congress can go urinate up a rope. So I was amusing myself by reading this second mailing…

    When I looked at the envelope (they wanted me to provide my own stamp!) the return address was… the local city Wastewater Department. Not by name, but I knew the address, having recently had to get directions to get there, since it’s in an unlikely place on the outskirts of town.

    Nothing on the forms actually *said* “US Government”, but otherwise they looked just like census forms, except more detailed. What the Sewer Goomers wanted with the information, I was unable to conjecture.

    1. Apparently they wanted to scoop up some poop on somebody…

      When the 2010 census came around, my wife and I found ourselves “inexplicably” answering the phone at Jenny’s number… 867-5309.

    2. Huh. I wonder if that’s what I threw in the shredder a few years ago. Although my local sewer company does have more justification in wanting to know how many toilets are in my house than the Census Bureau does.

  6. A quote from Person of Interest seems pertinent:

    John Reese: I never understood why people put all their information on those sites. Used to make our job a lot easier at the CIA.

    Harold Finch: Of course. That’s why I created them.

    John Reese: You’re telling me you invented online social networking, Finch?

    Harold Finch: The Machine needed more information. People’s social graph, their associations. The government had been trying to figure it out for years. Turns out most people were happy to volunteer it. Business wound up being quite profitable, too.

  7. Heh. I’m attending a class for work all next week, and among the stuff they sent for me to fill out was a form that wanted my basic (work) contact info. That’s fine, it’s not like they can’t get my work phone number, and emergency contacts aren’t a bad thing to have on hand. (Especially where I live, which has a whole lotta Nothin’ making up most of the state.) But the other form…they wanted my freaking work history. And a whole bunch more personal information. I balked at that. I (tactfully) pointed out that a.) I don’t keep my resume at work, and b.) it would take hours out of my workday I don’t have, and so how necessary was it that this get filled out? (Really, the real reason is “No, I am not giving you that much data, there is no good reason for it.”) As I suspected, the response was “Well, it’s for networking with your fellow classmates…but you don’t have to.”

    Yeah. Thanks, guys, but if I wanna ‘network’ I’ll talk to my classmates like a human being. YOU don’t need my curriculum vitae for that.

    (Also, it’s a freaking government job. “Networking” isn’t going to get me squat 90% of the time when it comes to applying for new jobs within, because I *still* have to get through their stupid filters/HR. And the people who DO skirt the rules to ‘help’ someone else get a job are shady as hell–because they know you’re not supposed to do that, and if they’ll skirt those rules, what others are they ignoring? I ask, glaring at certain high-level folks in my own office for whom ‘nepotism’ applies only to other people…)

    1. Networking won’t do much for applying for jobs, but it can make you better inside of it– my husband has done a lot of good and saved several folks a lot of time because he happened to have talked to someone who was involved/interested in something, so he dropped an email and got some goodcookies that way. šŸ™‚

  8. FB suggested a woman for friending a couple of years ago, and her name sounded vaguely familiar. As it turned out, she was the little girl who lived next door to us when I was a second-grader in Chicago. Her family moved away in 1959. I’d really like to know how they could guess a connection between us that was that old (almost sixty years) and that thin (living on the same street.) I moved away from that location in 1976. FB is doing some pretty aggressive data mining (or data purchasing) behind the scenes.

      1. FWIW, I can think of several routes that are really not that scary, just non-intuitive; it’s based off the same pattern matching that you’d use to look for terrorist connections.

        Things like family/friends that were connected to their family/friends, listing it as a place you’d lived, school you’d graduated from, people on your contact list graduating from the school……

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