All posts tagged ryan-holiday

  • Announcing my appointment as national music writer at The Australian, from January 2018

    I have been appointed as national music writer at The Australian, as announced in the newspaper on Saturday 25 November 2017:

    Andrew McMillen announced as The Australian's national music writer, starting January 2018

    Before I start my next chapter at The Australian in January 2018, I wrote a Medium post to summarise my eight years in freelance journalism. Excerpt below.

    Never Rattled, Never Frantic

    Staying motivated during eight years in freelance journalism

    'Never Rattled, Never Frantic: Staying motivated during eight years in freelance journalism' by Andrew McMillen, December 2017

    Underneath my computer monitor are three handwritten post-it notes that have been stuck in place for several years. They each contain a few words that mean a lot to me.

    From left to right, they read as follows:

    1. “Alive time or dead time?”

    2. “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practised every day, while failure is simply a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”

    3. “Never rattled. Never frantic. Always hustling and acting with creativity. Never anything but deliberate.”

    Since I began working as a freelance journalist in 2009, aged 21, I have worked from eight locations: two bedrooms, two home offices, three living rooms, and one co-working space.

    At each of these locations, I took to writing or printing quotes that I found motivational or inspirational. Most of them I have either absorbed by osmosis or outright forgotten, but there’s one I found around 2011 that retains a special resonance. I printed it in a large font, and stuck it to my wall:

    “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is practically a cliche. Education will not: the world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are all-powerful.”

    That long quote was torn down and tossed during a move, but the message was internalised. If I had to narrow my success down to a single attribute, it’s persistence. I could have quit on plenty of occasions, after any one of a number of setbacks. But I didn’t.

    In these motivational quotes, you may be sensing some themes.

    I would be lying if I told you that the act of writing and affixing these quotes helped me on a daily, or even a weekly basis. I didn’t repeat them out loud, like affirmations. Most of the time, they were as easy to ignore as wallpaper.

    But often enough in recent years, during down moments, or in times of stress or upheaval, I’d shift my gaze from the words–or the bright, blank page–on the computer monitor, and find that these few handwritten notes would help to centre my thoughts.

    Let me tell you why.

    To read the full story of how I kept myself motivated during eight years in freelance journalism, including significant help from my mentors Nick Crocker and Richard Guilliatt, visit Medium.

    And keep an eye on The Australian from January 2018 to see where I take the newspaper’s music coverage in my new role. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

  • The Weekend Australian book review: ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’ by Ryan Holiday, November 2012

    A book review published in The Weekend Australian on November 3. The full review follows.

    New media’s Machiavellis

    “My job is to lie to the media so they can lie to you,” 25-year-old Ryan Holiday writes on the first page of his first book. “I cheat, bribe, and connive for bestselling authors and billion-dollar brands and abuse my understanding of the internet to do it.”

    It’s a frank admission from the marketing director of Los Angeles-based clothing company American Apparel, and one that sets the tone for an explosive insight into new media manipulation.

    Trust Me, I’m Lying documents Holiday’s consistent exploitation of online publishers – from small-fry blogs to the websites of national media outlets – in the name of publicising his client list, which also includes Tucker Max, a popular American author whose stories centre on binge drinking and sexual debauchery.

    By revealing his tactics and explaining his strategies, Holiday exposes the blog-led model of “pageview journalism” as a vapid and desperate sham.

    Though this book concentrates on American websites such as the Huffington Post and Gawker, its message is relevant to all online publishers. Holiday describes his mission “to rip back the curtain and expose a problem that thus far everyone else has been too intimidated or self-interested to discuss openly”. Namely, the web is “hopelessly broken”:

    The economics of the internet created a twisted set of incentives that make traffic more important – and more profitable – than the truth. With the mass media – and today, mass culture – relying on the web for the next big thing, it is a set of incentives with massive implications.

    This economy – in which websites and blogs simply need traffic to sell advertisements, and where a perusing reader and accidental click are one and the same – leads the incessant hunger for new content. By design, this is a situation ripe for exploitation, as the income of many bloggers depends on their page views.

    “It’s a great time to be a media manipulator when your marks actually love receiving PR pitches,” Holiday notes.

    The first half of this book is devoted to how blogs work or, as Holiday describes it, “feeding the monster”. In an apparent nod to his mentor Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, Holiday outlines nine tactics, such as “give them what spreads, not what’s good” and “use the technology against itself”.

    These are all valid tactics that Holiday has used when promoting his clients. However, he notes some readers may be tempted to use them as an instruction manual for manipulation of their own. “So be it,” he writes. “You will come to regret that choice, just as I have. But you will also have fun, and it could make you rich.”

    In the second half of the book, “The monster attacks”, Holiday ruminates on what blogs mean. He takes a blade to press-led online extortion, iterative journalism (one top blogger is quoted as saying “getting it right is expensive, getting it first is cheap”), the sad truths of “snark” writing and “online entertainment tactics that drug you and me”.

    This book is essential reading for anyone working in the media, online or off, and also for those who want to understand how the PR industry influences what appears on screens, in newspapers and magazines, and over airwaves. Marketers and the media are increasingly on the same team; this book is something of a wake-up call.

    “The world is boring, but the news is exciting,” Holiday writes. “It’s a paradox of modern life. Journalists and bloggers are not magicians, but … you must give them some credit. Shit becomes sugar.”

    Similarly, it is a credit to the author’s writing style and analytical abilities that this book never becomes weighed down in media theory. Every point is backed up with penetrating personal anecdotes.

    The narrative is tied to a rich understanding of media history, all the way back to the street vendor “cash and carry” innovation of New York newspaper The Sun in 1833, which is eerily similar to the gaudy, attention-grabbing media model of 2012.

    Holiday is incisive and merciless. It is clear he has the perceptiveness and wherewithal to turn his still-nascent career into a fortune from advising the rich and powerful, yet this book is a step back from that dark art. In the introduction, he writes of his hope that, by exposing these vulnerabilities in the media system, they’ll no longer work as well. We’ll see about that.

    Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator 
    By Ryan Holiday
    Portfolio, 272pp, $26.95 (HB)

    Andrew McMillen is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist.

    For more on Trust Me, I’m Lying, visit its website. You might also be interested in my interview with Ryan Holiday from October 2011.

  • Cumulative Advantage and Social Currency

    A straightforward online exchange: Matt Granfield tweeted a link at @waycooljnr, the Twitter account I run with Nick Crocker for music and marketing links. It was an interesting link worth sharing, so I thanked Matt via Twitter and left a comment on David Gillespie‘s blog post.

    Simple, right? And, at first glance, pretty nerdy, especially when I describe what took all of 30 seconds. But it got me thinking about what is, in my mind, the real value of social networking: shortening the distance between people.

    Good thing there's no dice on the cover. Yeah, an NNT in-joke. Boom.For the last couple months, I’ve been reading a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb called The Black Swan. I’m not going to feign complete comprehension, as frankly, it’s the most challenging thing I’ve read since Robert Greene‘s 48 Laws Of Power, which took me over a year to absorb.

    Among many taxing topics, Taleb discusses the ‘Matthew effect‘, otherwise known as cumulative advantage. It’s the concept whereby it’s easier for the rich to become richer, and for the famous to get more famous:

    This theory can easily apply to companies, businessmen, actors, writers, and anyone else who benefits from past success. If you get published in The New Yorker because of the color of your letterhead or attracted the attention of the editor, who was daydreaming of daisies, the resultant reward can follow you for life. [p. 218]

    The earlier Twitter exchange allowed me to bridge the gap between that concept and social networking. Put simply: the more you interact with someone online before you meet them, the greater the chances that you’ll get what you want for them, be it friendship, mentorship, or a job.

    Let’s run with the third option. Picture two undergraduate job candidates. One spends his days at university and his nights on the couch watching television. The other spends his days at uni and his nights online, reading blogs, participating in relevant industry conversations via social media, and identifying local influencers within the industry he hopes to begin a career.

    An ideal employer advertises a junior role. Until they shake hands at the interview, Dude #1 is nothing more than a resumé and a cover letter to the employer. But Dude #2 has been sharing valuable links and commenting on the company’s blog, so he strikes an easily rapport with the employer based on their mutual interests and knowledge. Their social currency.

    Which one’s going to get the job? [An aside: I’m as surprised as you that I autopiloted into a university-based thought exercise, given my past admonishment of its worth.]

    Okay, the scenario’s not applicable to every industry. A chemistry undergraduate would find it less pertinent than a web designer. But hell, everything’s online these days. It kinda blows my mind that so many people still don’t get this.

    They're definitely not signing any more electro acts, though.I’ve been online for like 10 years, and I’m only just beginning to consciously pay attention to this stuff. Cumulative advantage dictates that the more time you spend online building meaningful relationships and contributing to the internet, the easier it’ll be to get what you want.

    At the top, I wrote that it was kinda nerdy to describe a Twitter interaction. But when you’re using these tools to establish yourself as an influencer within the industry you’re passionate about, well, who the fuck cares if it’s nerdy? You’re winning.

    One of Australia’s top indie record labels today advertised a job via Twitter. You wouldn’t hear about that while watching television, would you?

    Three quotes occurred as I wrote this. The last one’s the most important.

    Ryan Holiday, December 3 2007:

    [If I was starting all over again today]l I’d become a personal RSS reader for one or two of the big bloggers. “You’ll like this article.” “Do you read this blog? He hits a lot of the same themes that you do.” “I’m hearing rumors that ____ is going to acquire ______, just wanted to give you a heads up.” And I would tailor the results for that person based on what I know they like. I would kill myself doing it. Every day, 5-10 articles. And then I would start to integrate commentary or questions. Become the guy that they get their information from, the person that keeps them connected to the pulse. Maybe one week I’d take a break and send nothing, just to highlight the difference. The ultimate end game being that they would start to send you out to find things for them: “What can you tell me about ________” Yes, you’re a research bitch but in the end, you come away with something that even the person you’re serving doesn’t–not just a vast reserve of knowledge but the ability to find out where it is coming from.

    Ryan Holiday, June 11 2008:

    One day you’ll probably want something from the internet – you’ll have a book to promote, a business that needs customers, someone you need to meet, an ebay auction you’re trying to sell, a job you’re after. It’ll be too late then. You have to start before. And there’s only one way to do that.

    Tait Ischia, April 17 2009:

    You have to prove to business owners that you are good and that you’ll make them money. And of course the best way to prove it is by doing stuff. Blogs are the easiest way to do stuff. It’s basically like maintaining a Facebook but isn’t a complete time-wasting exercise in vanity. If all the kids these days spent the same amount of time writing blogs that they did on Facebook, then [the advertising] industry would be a hell of a lot more competitive.

  • A Conversation With Ben Corman, Rudius Media Creative Director

    I don't understand the significance, either.Ben Corman is the Creative Director of Rudius Media. They’re an American web publishing company founded by Tucker Max, who wrote a book called I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell which is being released as a movie in September 2009 (production blog here).

    I’ve followed Tucker Max since around 2004. Initially, because I was the typical teenage male attracted to his hedonistic story-telling; lately, because Rudius is an interesting case study as a (mostly) public web media company, given that their staff is largely comprised of writers. Corman is averse to publishing photographs of himself – he was adamant that the graffiti pictured right should be used to depict him – but he took the time to respond at length to my questions about Rudius Media, his role and their future.

    How did the opportunity to sign on with Rudius come about?

    I sort of fell into it. A couple of months after I joined the messageboard, Donika [Miller, Rudius Editor] and Luke [Heidelberger, Rudius Director of IT] started the Submitted Stories board and, being that I wasn’t doing much with my time, I started writing short stories to get posted there. I’d always (sort of) written, but it was hard to sustain any enthusiasm for it without having anyone to read my stuff. That board was great because for the first time my work was getting put in front of an audience who didn’t give a shit about me and would give me honest feedback.

    Donika noticed me and offered to help edit my stuff, which was a huge ego boost. It was really nice to have someone say, “hey, this is good and I believe in it.”

    I’m not sure what happened after that. I kept writing and about a week before I was supposed to see Tucker speak at UCLA he messaged me about my writing. We went out for drinks after the speech and talked about the company and what he was trying to put together; I told him that I’d love to come on board. I assume that Donika put my name out there as someone with a little bit of writing talent. and it was just luck that we happened to be in the city at the same time.

    How does your current role differ from what was described to you at that time?

    You assume that I had a role described to me. The night I got myself hired, I’m not sure Tucker ever said what I was going to do. He said something like “I’ll give you something easy to do, just to see how you do at it and to see if you’re a good fit. If you do well, then I’ll give you more work. If you blow it, no harm, but it means you’re not a good fit, and we’ll go our separate ways.”

    The first thing I did was some transcription work for Robert Greene’s site. Then after that I started editing a few of the projects that we had going at the time. I was just happy to be a part of the company; we never really had things like job descriptions or roles.

    How do you describe the company and your role when you meet new people?

    Rudius Media. Also pictured: Russell Crowe's silhouetteI sort of evade the question when I meet new people. For most people, what they do to pay the bills and what they’re really passionate about are two separate things. I like to get right at what they’re passionate about, because that’s always more interesting than the sort of small talk that surrounds “so what do you do?”.

    Usually, when the question comes up, I say I work for a start-up media company and I’m the creative director of the literary side. That’s enough of a mouthful that most people nod without knowing what that really means.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’ll talk all day about writing, but only because I find that sort of thing really engaging. And there are parts of my job that I really like discussing, like how the internet has changed content distribution, or what it takes to make a living as an artist. But those topics are usually divorced from the discussion of what I do professionally. Most people have some sort of creative outlet, whether it’s DJing or coding or climbing or writing or photography. It’s easy to have a wide-ranging discussion about those interests without it having to be bogged down with talk about the day job.

    Do you find that people tend to have difficulty accepting what appears to be a relatively unclassifiable, ‘new media’ company? Do you find yourself oversimplifying your role to fit into what people are able to understand?

    I think most people don’t know how the movies they watch or the books they read are made, and consequently they don’t really understand the difference between Rudius and a more traditional media company. Which is fine; I don’t expect people to know the ins and outs of either industry, and I certainly didn’t understand the nuances of this business before I worked in it. When I talk about what I do or what Rudius does, they don’t realize that we’re different from the other players out there. Conceptually, their understanding that we’re different stems from us being a start-up and that we’re still trying to establish ourselves in these spaces.

    When I talk about what I do and the many hats I wear, it’s in the context of a start-up. People understand that my job can change pretty much on a daily basis, depending on what Rudius needs at the moment. So I don’t ever really have to simplify what my job is. I do whatever needs to be done.

    People are more interested in the fact that we’re a start-up and that I work from home, than what I actually do day-to-day. In some ways I live the dream. I don’t have to worry about making it into an office. I don’t have hours to keep. I travel a lot. As long as the work gets done, everyone is happy. I think a lot of people would prefer the system we have over the traditional eight hour work day.

    When you first met Tucker, did he buy you a copy of [Robert Greene’s] 33 Strategies Of War like he did for Ryan Holiday? [a fellow Rudius writer, pictured below right]

    Ryan Holiday at an American Apparel press conference. Photo by flickr user 'Steve Rhodes'Nope. But Tucker has this amazing library that I’ve borrowed more of my fair share of books from. For a while I was reading like a book a week out of it. And he has this habit of ordering books twice, so I’ve been able to get a number of free books that way.

    When I first met Tucker, I knew he was a Robert Greene fan, so I lied and said that I’d read all his books and was a huge fan myself. Things probably would have turned out the same, I’d have still gotten the job, if I’d been honest but I was reaching that night because I really wanted to work with Tucker. And once that lie was on the table, I had to go back and read Robert Greene. I was too poor to buy the actual books, so I blew off studying for my finals and spent the next week in the UCLA bookstore reading Robert Greene’s work.

    In “I’m With The Band“, you wrote: “And if you already think I’m an asshole this is where you should probably stop reading.” Can you explain that line? Why the pre-emptive self-defense?

    I was trying to say that I realize how ridiculous it is to complain about a positive. I’m aware that what’s coming is going to be good for all of us. If the movie [I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell] does well, we’ll be in a great place. We’ll have resources, we’ll be able to work the artists we want to work with, and we’ll have our pick of projects.

    A lot of people are going to look at what’s coming and think I’m crazy to miss the days when we were run out of a living room. And they’re probably right. I assume that things only get better from here on out and that I’ll have more opportunities going forward. Which is why I feel like an asshole writing that I’ll miss it. But Rudius has been such a big part of my life over the last few years that I can’t help but feel something now that we’re about to undergo this huge change.

    In September 2008, you took a hands-on approach to updating the Rudius Media homepage with new content almost-daily. What was the strategy behind this decision? Has it succeeded, or is it too early to tell?

    As we’ve grown and added sites and as some authors have fallen off from writing, we’ve not done a very good job showcasing who is writing and where the newest and best content is. The change was supposed to (in some small way) address that shortcoming, and give readers an easy way to stay on top of what’s happening in the Rudius universe. In looking around at Rudius Media, it was a pretty big oversight that a new media company wouldn’t have a portal for it’s own content.

    It was also the first part of a larger strategy to redesign the sites. I had hoped that we’d be able to get that redesign done this year, but because of the budget, it looks like that’s going to have to wait until 2010. I want to make Rudius Media more of a community instead of each site having it’s own little fiefdom. So we’re looking at features such as single login that will allow a reader to comment on any of the sites as well as log into the messageboard, dynamically updating blog rolls that show which sites have been updated and where the latest content is and the ability for our readers to interact with each other through profiles and other such web magic.

    It’s really too early to tell if all of this will be a success or not as the changes to the Rudius Media site are just the small first step. There should be a lot of cool stuff happening next year.

    How do you deal with procrastination? Have your work habits improved of late?

    I used to just throw myself at the day with this sort of checklist mentality. So if I wanted to update the blog, I’d just sit there first thing in the morning and sort of command myself “ok, now write.” Or if it was midnight but I had some editing to do, I’d sit down and try to edit. As a result, I’d just be super unmotivated to actually do the task in front of me. so I’d waste time on the messageboard or on my RSS reader.

    I’ve found that I’m better at certain tasks depending on the time of day. So mornings I can deal with the tech side and keeping the servers alive, usually over breakfast. Afternoons I usually spend on the content side; editing, looking at author applications, reading my RSS reader. And I’m better at writing post-8pm. So now I just block my day off into three-hour blocks and I just stay with whatever task I’m on for those three hours.

    It has the advantage of not feeling like I’m going to spend my whole day on one task and since I know, “okay, I’ve got three hours to get this done.”

    I also tracked myself for a week to see where I was wasting time. I realized that keeping my email open all the time was a huge problem, because every new email was an interruption to what I was doing. Now I only check it once an hour or so, whenever the natural breaks in whatever I’m working on come.

    The bigger problem though was my RSS reader. It’s easy to lose a whole day just sort of mindlessly reading articles and tagging them in Now, if I find myself doing that, I make a conscious effort to close it and get back to whatever I should be working on.

    How do you define your business relationship with Tucker [pictured below left]? Do you consider him a mentor?

    Tucker Max. Six foot nothing.He’s my boss and the owner of Rudius Media.

    He’s not a mentor in the sense that he’s looking over my shoulder and giving me advice or direction but he’s always been there as a resource. And as I’ve tried to learn everything I can about this business, it’s been invaluable having him there to bounce questions off of. A lot of what I’ve been trying to learn, he pioneered with, and so when I’m not sure exactly what the next step is, I can go ask him, “What do I need to do here?”

    I’ve noticed that most people who comment on your blog entries tend to write something like “oh yeah I can totally relate, this is just like what happened to me”, before they go on to describe a similiar experience they had. I notice this happens a lot on Ryan’s blog, too. Maybe it’s a wider blog phenomenon, but it seems really concentrated on the Rudius sites. Does this kind of reaction to your writing bother you?

    Not really. I’m usually so happy that people are reading and commenting that unless someone is obviously trolling, I’m happy that they’ve taken the time to hang out at my site. It’s not like I know my readers; they have no obligation to me to keep coming back and reading what I have to say. But they do, and that’s incredibly rewarding. That they then want to share their experiences is pretty cool.

    There’s all these articles out there about narcissism, and about how blogging and Twitter and everything else is just an extension about how narcissistic we’ve gotten as a society. I’m sure there are elements of that out there, but for the most part, I think people blog and Twitter and share on flickr and goodreads and and messageboards because they’re looking for a connection with other people. I don’t see it as narcissism, but as us really trying to connect by saying “here’s what I’m about”, and seeing if that resonates with other people.

    Yeah, the downside is that there are a lot of people blogging about their cats, but you know what? If that person has twelve readers, I bet there’s a cool little vibe happening where they all get to just geek out about their love of cats. It’s easy to shit all over that, but most people aren’t trying to do this for a living; they just want to find other people who share their hobbies and passions.

    So if my writing connects with someone where they want to share their experiences back, I’m not sure how that could bother me.

    Since I began reading your site a couple of years ago, I found it frustrating how little you discussed the day-to-day working for Rudius Media. It’s great that you’ve recently started to write more about that side of your life.

    I tend to write about what’s going on in my life and what I find interesting at the moment. With the movie tour coming up and with the movie site about to go live, Rudius has definitely been on my mind. But it hasn’t been a conscious decision to write more about my work, or what happens day-to-day. When I sit down to write, there’s no real decision like “I have to go in this direction.” I just write about whatever happens to be on my mind at the moment.

    If you like the day-to-day Rudius stuff, there will be a lot more of it coming up. I’ll be on the movie tour, and I plan to write every day, sort of what I did with the Panama trip. So look for that.

    What are your goals with the non-fiction element of [site banner pictured below right – dude in suit isn’t Ben]

    Fake Ben Corman standing in a fake suit among a fake building wreckage.I wish I had goals for the site. A few months ago, when I was having trouble writing post-Panama, I sat down and spent a few weeks mapping out my next novel. I’ve got a notebook full out outlines and character profiles and everything else that goes into a really big project. And for a few weeks I sort of nibbled around the edges, filling in parts of the outline or writing scenes, but not doing any of the heavy lifting.

    Then I had a pretty rough weekend and wrote about it in the entry about my grandmother dying (“January 22nd, 1917 – July 3rd, 2009“), and ever since then, the words have sort of tumbled out and on to the page. So I put the novel away for a bit, and I’m just going to ride this for as long as it’s fun and it’s working for me.

    I go through these periods where writing comes really easily and I have a lot to say; that’s when I really just love doing it. But as to where it’s headed or what the plan is, it’s pretty undefined. Just: do this, and see if people respond to it.

    It’s actually a dumb plan. I should be working on the novel non-stop so that it’s ready when we’re a big bad player in Hollywood.

    What do you hope others get out of your writing on the site?

    I hope people are entertained. Growing up, I read a lot. Even now, there’s nothing I like more than just killing half a day getting lost in a really good book. I don’t think my own writing is that strong yet, where people will just get lost in it for hours, but I hope that they sort of lose themselves in what I have to say – for a few minutes, at least.

    Finally, how do you feel about being interviewed?

    It’s harder than it looks in the movies. Like anything else, there’s this pressure to be engaging, to be funny, to be honest, all while still maintaining that fiction that I’m cool enough to be interviewed.

    I really hate reading interviews with people that I respect that are boring, because it feels like they’re not trying. That’s probably selfish of me, to want more than they’re willing to give. But now, being on the other side of the table … it feels like you’ve given me the chance to say something, and you’ve opened your audience to me. I want to respect that.

    So much of this blogging shit is just a shell game: it’s creating content because the template is to update (x) times a week on Y subject, and link bait sites A, B and C. In my own writing, I’m trying to get past that. I’m trying to create the kind of stuff I’d want to read, and not just create content because I need to hit that content template.

    So I’d feel really shitty if I just mailed it in with two line answers. But it’s fun too. And I can only hope that this interview turns out to be entertaining, or that someone gets something out of this.

    Ben Corman updates the homepage most days, and writes mostly non-fiction at He’s joined Tucker Max’s movie tour in the lead-up to its September 2009 US release, which Tucker has blogged about extensively here. Contact Ben via his site or Twitter.