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Interview with Ryan Holiday, Author of Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator


Trust Me, I'm Lying by Ryan Holiday

For my readers, here’s the story of how I heard about Ryan. I got a positively gushing email from my agent demanding that I rush over and check out Ryan’s website. She was 100 times more excited about him than she had ever been about me, so over I went.

I’m glad I did. Ryan’s writing makes me feel like I’ve run into a long-lost friend, not least because he’s a book nut. The questions jump around a bit but they are questions I really wanted to know his opinions on.

So thanks to Ryan for being here.

Ryan: Who’s your agent? That’s a really cool story. Tell her I said thank you.

Josh: Lisa Dimona from Lark Productions. I will tell her, although I’m sure she’s here reading this as well. She’ll be giddy.

Let’s jump in. You’ve got a book coming out in July. Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. I have already pre-ordered a copy and have made sure the library’s done so as well. Can you tell everyone what the book’s about, and how you came to write it?

Ryan: The book is tell-all about my marketing machinations for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands and what those exploits say about the media system we currently have. I try to show what people can learn from what I did—both how to do it and why they shouldn’t. It’s something I decided to write because I felt I had to. I was tired of seeing charlatans and blogging gurus selling something they didn’t understanding, pushing a media system with no checks or balances, and a bunch of naïve tech-optimists embracing their rhetoric without thinking about the consequences.

Josh: Do you read e-books? If so, what’s the approximate ratio of your e-book:print reading?

Ryan: 50 to 1? 100 to 1? Not sure exactly, but I’m a researcher so ebooks don’t work well for me. Researching is about organization and physical arrangement. Even in writing my own book, I had a lot of moving pieces and it’s a lot easier to manage those pieces when you can touch them and have a literal handle on them.

Josh: Jonathan Franzen recently spoke out against e-books and their damaging effects on society. He implies that if you’re a “serious reader” or a “literature-crazed person,” that you probably aren’t going to be reading e-books. Here’s a quote:

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.

What do you make of that?

Ryan: It sounds like wankery to me. I’m so tired of people who love books making up reasons to imbue them with extra significance. “Oh I love the smell of books.” Really? I hope you’re not serious. Look, I like physical books because they do the job better. The technology is better.

I listen to mp3s on my iPod because in that case, it does the job better. We listen to music differently than we read books, we want to carry it around with us everywhere and use it multiple times so digital is superior. We have thousands of songs, whereas most people only read a few books a year.

For my purposes, physical books are easier to mark up, keep track of and get lost in. If ebooks can become a supplement to that or eventually do it better, I’ll switch. I’m not so pretentious as to think that their form matters to society.

Josh: When you interview people for library jobs, you get to hear about “the smell of books a whole lot.” You have a list of “books to base your life on.” What was the most recent addition to the list?

Ryan: Xenophen’s biography of Cyrus the Great.

Josh: You’ve advised Tucker Max on media strategy.  I don’t have a whole lot in common with Tucker but A Confederacy of Dunces is by far my favorite book. He lists it right at the top of his reading list and it’s the one I would save if I had to choose.

Ryan: It’s one of my favorites too. Especially since I live in New Orleans and see the Lucky Dog carts all the time. I see movies at the Pryanntia Theatre (which is still there) and I walk by the Ignatius Reilly statue on Canal St on my way to the gym.

Josh: I had no idea there was a statue. Sounds like I need to make a pilgrimage. And get a hot dog. And see a movie at that theater. How about you? Do you have a favorite book? Top three? Too many to tell?

Ryan: Not too many, it just depends on whether you mean favorite or best or most influential or most important. The most important book in my life is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius though. It tops all those lists for me.

Josh: Are people still going to be reading books in 20 years? In Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, there’s a running joke about how archaic text of any length has become. There’s a lot of other dystopian stuff going on in the story, but the outright disdain for the written word was a perfect snapshot of my own nightmare future.

Ryan: Of course. We’ve been reading “books” since the Greeks. But our notions of what a “book” is has changed significantly over that time, from scrolls to ebooks. I mean they used to write books on dead animal skins. The medium is pretty flexible—the only thing that hasn’t change is our thirst for big ideas and stories.

Josh: What are you most proud of?

Ryan: In my life? That I am my own man at 24—I don’t have to worry too much about money or things like that and my time is almost entirely my own—and I didn’t have to endure anything too awful to get to that point.

Josh: Anything else you’d like everyone to know about you?

Ryan: Nope. What about you? How would you answer that question? Maybe your answer will inspire something.

Josh: You know, when you put me on the spot like that, I understand why you didn’t have an answer. I’m going to say nope as well. I’m in the final stages of a memoir and I’m pretty sick of talking and thinking about myself.

Ryank, thnks for coming by. Readers: go pre-order Trust Me I’m Lying!

You can visit Ryan on his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Spencer April 2, 2012, 7:52 am

    This does sound exciting and interesting. What an awesome guy! I will be checking that book out for sure!

    • Josh Hanagarne April 2, 2012, 8:15 am

      Spencer, go check out his blog. You’ll get a kick out of it. He reminds me of you in some ways.

      • Spencer April 2, 2012, 10:43 am

        Checked it; liked it. I’ll be back.

  • Josh Molina April 2, 2012, 10:05 am

    Good interview. Ryan seems a little pleased with how smart he is, but at least he’s actually doing stuff. Might check the book out.

    • Ryan Holiday April 2, 2012, 1:02 pm

      Wouldn’t you be pleased too? Seriously though, I’d be curious as to where you picked up that vibe in this interview.

  • Jamie April 2, 2012, 12:58 pm

    Ha, he used the word ‘wankery’ in an interview.

    Interesting take on books and the different mediums we can choose from. I agree with Ryan on preference with physical books over ebooks…. especially for note taking and research. I like being able to mark up, highlight and pen into any book!

    • Josh Hanagarne April 2, 2012, 1:24 pm

      Yep, big points for ‘wankery.”

      At this point I’m probably reading about half digital, half print. I love both. But yeah, for note-taking and making a mess, there’s no beating paper.

  • LarryPrada April 2, 2012, 3:00 pm

    “how to do it and why they shouldn’t” lol

  • BillyBean April 2, 2012, 4:12 pm

    Interesting stuff as usual, Josh. Perhaps a review of Ryan’s book when it comes out is in the cards?

    • Josh Hanagarne April 2, 2012, 6:17 pm

      Sure, if I like it. I try not to review books I can’t actually recommend. I suspect Ryan’s will be worth reviewing.

  • Chris R. April 2, 2012, 10:42 pm

    Good interview and topic. If this guy is 24, doesn’t worry about money, and his time is his own – clearly he knows something I don’t. Should be an interesting read at the least – I’m picking up a copy for sure.

  • Chris Mershon April 3, 2012, 1:36 pm

    Definately looking forward to the book. That cover art and title are awesome!

  • Barrie Macmillan July 15, 2012, 1:20 pm

    Will try to order the book today at my local library in Melbourne, Australia. Not holding my breath that they will get it for me.
    I too want to know more about being in a good place at 24….I was then winging my way for 10 quid from London to Melbourne to join this pseudo American society and have been here for 42 years since. I much prefer the physical “feel” of the real thing Josh, so don’t read many E-books. Gave it a go a while back but just not the same for me. Will await your review with interest.