R. Byrne Reilly, author of the new Peter Thiel micro-biography, looks to go ‘gonzo all the way’
As someone who grew up in Detroit, moved to California, but now resides in flyover country, one can be a bit jealous of Richard Byrne Reilly, the author of the new micro-biography of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel. (If you started here, you may want to go back to part one of this series, here.)
Reilly is trying to live the life of the independent journalists he admires, while admitting that he’s “got to go back to work.”
Reilly spoke to TNM to about his new eBook and his life in journalism and his story sometimes runs to the bizarre.
“Started journalism in prep school in New Hampshire, that’s when I got in to it,” Reilly said during an interview in Santa Cruz, where he lives.
“Started publishing in old typesets, like the local printer in a small New Hampshire town, the underground paper, pointing out injustices of certain faculty members, stuff like that. That actually ended up getting me tossed, asked to leave. ”
After graduating from Emerson College, Reilly worked as a production assistant for the now-defunct GoldenScreen Infomercials in Los Angeles and then, thanks to a former girlfriend, worked on the TV series Baywatch.
He ended up in the Czech Republic working as a staff writer for a few publications and a news agency. This is where the “gonzo” part comes in.
“Pretty girls, lots of alcohol and huge reservoir of stories,” Reilly said. “Tito-loving Serbian underworld figures, fleeing war criminals, Chechen hit men, the security services of the East and West squaring off. Total electricity!”
When he returned to the States he ended up at the National Enquirer, of all places, before landing at the magazine Red Herring.
Founded in 1993, the name of the magazine gets its name from the prospectus issued to potential investors. In the early to mid nineties, when the tech and Internet boom was really getting going, before its bust in 2000, everyone one wanted to read about the new companies and personalities making it in the Bay Area.
Other magazines were launched, as well, such as The Industry Standard and Business 2.0. I was working at McGraw-Hill in San Francisco at the time, and found Issue No. 1 of new magazines in my in-box at the office – guess they thought I was a player (if only).
Some of these brands, such as Red Herring, still live on online, but those days are long gone.
But for Reilly, many of the people he wrote about during those days are still around, big players, and often – as in the case of Peter Thiel – very much in the headlines. That is why Reilly plans on Peter Thiel: Players, Companies, Life being the first of three new eBooks.
And his timing couldn’t have been better, just his new book entered the online stores for Apple, Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble, Thiel admitted to be the money behind the lawsuits against Gawker, leading to much discussion in journalism circles about whether Gawker’s brand of journalism should be defended, whether big money should silence a media brand, and what it all means for the future.
Reilly admitted that he “couldn’t have asked for more in terms of PR push.”
But Reilly chose to self-publish, and only have his book available in digital form. That will, of course, limit its availability. Also, it means he has to self-promote the book.
“I don’t need to play political games to get my message out there, of reaping any financial rewards from that. It’s all predicated up people hitting “Buy”. But having the message delivered effectively before they pull the trigger on a purchase,” Reilly said, adding “$4.49” – the price of the eBook.
Digital publishing designers will find his new eBook a bit rudimentary. He did not do much to enhance his eBook, like embed video or use iBooks Author to create an interactive eBook that might have better shown off his sources. In this regard, he probably could have used an editor more knowledgeable of digital publishing platforms.
But Reilly said that “everything that I do goes directly to the punk rock ethos that I have embraced. The do-it-yourself-ethos. The hero of mine have always done it their way and been successful in the long term going that route.”
“That punk rock ethos, the Black Flags, the MDCs, Dead Kennedys, they did it themselves,” Reilly said. “They made their own records, they pressed them. They did it all themselves. That’s what I’m doing now.”
“I can do the traditional agent query letters, and the cat and mouse game, No matter how good the product is, there is always the politics of that game. And they are hardwired to say “No”. So, I don’t want to spend any time around people who say “No’ to me. I’ll do what the fuck I want, when I want it, with digital publishing.
“It’s an incredible ecosystem that’s free to utilize. How much you put into it is what you get out of it. So, that’s so exciting for me going this route. No overhead. Obviously the objective here is financial gain. If I can support myself financially writing about these incredible people who have life ambitions that effect everybody, with wealth and everything that goes into that, that’s where I want to be. Now if there’s a traditional entity that is working together in some capacity to get the message out there I would love to talk to them. But in terms of playing the game and waiting around for rejection, that’s like ten years ago.”