The Throat-Slitting Incident: A Day in the Life of a Blogger
It was the best story I’d ever written, until the subject wanted to slit my throat.
Five years ago, I was a sportswriter focused on gambling. I especially enjoyed exposing frauds who charged money for bad advice that fueled people’s addictions.
One day, I got a PR email from CNBC. Somehow, a con artist schemed his way into getting his own show, Money Talks. They wanted me to do an interview.
Clearly, they hadn’t read my stuff. They didn’t know I loved calling out these assholes. (This is how most PR companies work — they send mass emails to long lists of random journalists.)
A good journalist reserves judgment until he does more research.
I was not a good journalist.
Jokes aside, I really did give him a chance. I researched. It turned out he was a two-time felon … for scamming old people. He was a part of a telemarketing “company” that would call the elderly and tell them they won a prize … but they needed to pay $699 to claim it.
I still gave him a chance. I asked softball questions.
“Where do you track your records?”
“Why not? If your records are as good as you say, wouldn’t that help sell your product?”
“My money comes from inbound sales, so I don’t need to.”
“Don’t you track it for yourself, to know how much money you’re making?”
“I don’t track records because the Internet isn’t regulated.”
““But wouldn’t it help you get new business?”
“I wouldn’t be calling you to convince you. People call me.”
He kept saying that.
“People call me. People call me. People call me.”
I couldn’t get it out of my head. People call me. People call me. People call me.
How would people call him if nobody in the industry knew who he was, and he had no documented track record?
The answer, of course, was nobody called him until he got on TV — and the only people who did, then, were suckers that fell for his spell.
But how did he get on TV in the first place? There was no way CNBC called him.
Clearly, he called them first.
“Fake it ‘til you make it” is misunderstood.
Most people think it means “lie so you get a chance … then hope your talent eventually catches up to your lies.”
Most good people don’t want to lie, so they don’t fake it. And it holds them back from trying new things.
But that’s not what the saying really means.
It’s more like: “Fake being confident until your confidence catches up with your skill and dedication to results.”
If you’re not good at something, all the confidence in the world doesn’t matter. But if you don’t pretend to be confident, you’ll never get the chance to prove yourself.
Most people can deliver better results than their confidence implies. But they’re afraid to try, because they don’t know for sure.
What does this have to do with the Sports Betting Sociopath?
The reason I hated him was that he lied to his customers, telling them they’d get rich with his shitty advice.
But that wasn’t what CNBC cared about. They cared about ratings.
When he called them, he had one thing to prove: That he was enough of a character to get good ratings.
Talk to the dude for two minutes, and you’ll know he belongs on TV.
After I published the hit piece on him, he started sending me emails. Insanity aside, there is no doubt the guy is entertaining.
“You’re a wankster European pusher.” (This was just a tiny sample of his emails.)
I get why CNBC gave him a show. He gave them a free sample, and they were like — I know this quadruple-fried Arsenic Burger is going to kill me … but it’s really damn tasty.
I don’t blame them. The Scumbag helped them reach their goals (ratings).
It’s the question every aspiring writer or entrepreneur always asks: How do people find me when I’m just starting out?
The answer is hard to swallow, like an Arsenic Burger.
If you have no experience, you won’t get hired. If you have no online platform, no publisher will sign you. If nobody has read your stuff, nobody will buy your self-published book.
You can’t sell something to people who don’t yet trust you. Can you blame them?
There are two ways to get your first readers/clients/customers:
- Get a trusted source to vouch for you (social proof … as in CNBC giving the scammer a platform).
- Go door-to-door and give free samples … then use the trust you gain to ask for money.
And to achieve #2, you have to go door-to-door to trusted sources anyway. You’ll have to give them free samples before they trust you.
In order to start from nothing, you have to go door-to-door. You have to knock, one by one … and prove your worth.
This can be done figuratively, online (sending cold emails/LinkedIn messages) … but there are very few exceptions. And it must be done personally.
Notice that I’m sending a mass email only after I’ve reached out to (almost) all of you personally. (If I haven’t, feel free to hit reply and chat.)
Paul Graham talks about this in “Do Things That Don’t Scale.” He writes about AirBnB, which “now seems like an unstoppable juggernaut, but early on it was so fragile that about 30 days of going out and engaging in person with users made the difference between success and failure.”
“Startups take off because founders make them take off.”
Writing careers take off because writers make them take off.
Freelance careers take off because freelancers make them take off.
Nobody will call you unless their friend has called them, and you called their friend first.
Nobody will call you until you’ve made hundreds of calls first.
For a writing career, the easiest way to do this is:
– Start posting things online to people who already trust you (social media, bug people to join an email list, etc.)
– Earn fans and eventually sell them something after they’ve shown clear interest (a paid newsletter, a book, etc.)
For a freelance/online biz career, the easiest way to do this is:
– Send personalized cold emails and include a free, personalized sample of the work you’re willing to do … and explain why it will benefit them
– Then make it no-risk for them (“if you’re not happy, I’ll give you your money back + $100 cash”)
If you have tangential experience (say, at your job), you can package it into something personalized for that specific job or situation. But in general, there’s no way to escape some free work when starting out.
I’m not saying to work full jobs for free.
I’m saying you need to prove your worth to someone before asking them for money.
Be like the Sports Betting Sociopath.
Don’t knock on doors and say, monotone, “Hey, stranger. I’m entertaining. Hire me to entertain you, please.”
Knock on their door and actually entertain them. Tell a story. Do a dance. Scratch your butt.
After knocking on enough doors and scratching enough butts (actually, scratch only your own butt … no assault, plz) … eventually, people will start calling you.
But that requires a platform (like a book) … and is a topic for another post.
I’m a big believer in learning something from everyone in life, even people that want to slit your throat.
Faking confidence is easy for a sociopath. Sociopaths don’t worry about letting people down, so they don’t hesitate to test the unknown.
For “wankster European pushers” like us (aka good, moral people) … the unknown is scary.
But every time we let fear stop us from trying something new, a Sociopath unapologetically takes our place.
Which is why you have to fake confidence at first. And trust me: As soon as you get results and add the value to the world that you know you can … your confidence will grow. It won’t be easy, but it will get easier with every leap you take.
What I learned from the Sociopath is: Be as confident as a sociopath, but as moral as a “wankster European pusher.”
If you think you might be ready to take the leap, you’re ready to take the leap. You’ll never know with 100% certainty that it will work. Just have the right intentions (helping people and adding value to the world).
The world will be a better place, and you’ll finally start working on that thing you’ve always wanted to do one day.
RECAP: You can’t wait for a chance to prove yourself. You have to prove yourself to get a chance.
I got a little sidetracked there, so I didn’t get to the part where the Scumbag threatened to slit my throat.
I’ll explain next email (ed note: this was originally published in my email newsletter, split into two posts). In the meantime, secure your jugulars.
Now, where were we?
Oh, right. I think someone was about to slit my throat.
So, I interviewed the scumbag and wrote an article. “CNBC’s Sports Betting Show Stars Floyd Mayweather’s Friend, Who’s So Full of Shit it Hurts.”
When you call people “so full of shit it hurts,” it inflates their shit to the point of near-combustion, and they hurt even more. Ow.
And if said people happen to be illiterate sociopaths, they yell into their voice-to-text programs and unleash storms of incomprehensible anger on your inbox.
As I responded, I wished I could afford a 1-bedroom apartment. I was a sports blogger in NYC — I lived in a 4-bedroom apartment, and couldn’t really afford that. Sadly, I’ve never seen Star Trek.
Any time I responded with a sentence, he jabbed back with a dozen.
“write about how broke you are you should write about how you’re a fan of me you should write about how you watch my show every week you need to come out of the closet you’re in love with Steve Stevens anyway tell your girl to call me”
He was right; I was in love with messing with him. I told my girl to call him, but she wasn’t interested (because she only existed in my mind).
Then, the grand finale:
So, of course — I did. Hours later, I published all of his correspondence as “Insults From An Idiot,” by A Little Dork. It was an even bigger hit than the first article.
But this time, tons of people commented on the article, defending him.
Maybe I was missing something. Maybe I was a dumb brokepussy b**** talking s*** while everyone I knew watched his show and got rich. Maybe I was a website wankster pen pusher who act like I him.
Or maybe, every commented was registered to the same email address.
His email address.
The scumbag was too stupid to realize I could see that he was the one defending himself, under several weird aliases. “Fred Sperry. “Doug brilliant double digit.” “Doug bellamy fred steroid.”
Dying of laughter, I responded to one of his emails.
But then it stopped being funny.
At the time, I was living in a small, 4-bedroom apartment in NYC. My parents live in the NY suburbs, where I grew up.
One Saturday morning, a phone call woke me up. “Home.” It was before 10:00am.
My parents knew not to call me before 10am on a weekend, unless it’s life, death, or free Bacon, Egg & Cheeses.
Dad was frantic. “Someone called the house at 3am and your mother picked up. He didn’t say who it was, but asked for ‘Matt.’ When she said you weren’t there, he said … ‘tell him I’m gonna slit his f*ckin’ throat. He’ll never write again.”
My parents had no idea who it was, but I immediately knew it was the scumbag. I explained that he lived in Las Vegas, didn’t know where I actually lived, and was almost certainly making an empty threat.
Regardless, the joke was no longer funny. I stopped responding to his emails, comments and Tweets. We discussed police involvement but realized we didn’t have much to work with. We just let it go and stopped fueling his anger.
And yet, to this day … I have a scar on my throat.
Because in high school, I had Graves’ Disease and my thyroid was removed. My throat wasn’t slit by a degenerate gambler endorsed by CNBC, just by an excellent, kind surgeon. I was messing with y’allz.
The scumbag left me alone within a month or so. I’m happy and healthy and haven’t heard from him in years.
As I explained last week, I’m a big believer in learning something from everyone.
So what’s the final lesson from the scumbag, before we go back to ignoring him in perpetuity?
The lesson is simple.
If you want someone to know you exist, write about them.
People can’t resist reading, sharing and commenting on content about themselves. Even if it comes from an obscure source.
This sounds obvious, but the applications are endless.
Want a company to know who you are? Write a case study about them.
Want a job? Evaluate the company’s current standing, and highlight some ideas for growth/improvement.
Want an “influencer” to promote your stuff? Write a profile on them. Summarize a book or article of theirs. Ask for an interview. Post it on your blog (or start one on Medium), email list, or podcast. Send them the link and show gratitude.
Of course, you’ll almost certainly want to write something positive about this person/company. But you could potentially highlight what they do right, and what their competitors do wrong.
This doesn’t mean to kiss ass.
You could start with a big, genuine compliment, then offer ideas for improvement.
It’s just like any type of editing or coaching. Start by highlighting the positives. Only then, mention any room for improvement. That’s not an insult. That’s helpful. That’s guidance.
Everyone wants to be talked about. Everybody wants to be written about. Everybody wants to be praised.
Just remember: Be positive, or you might get your throat slit.