Universally regarded as one of the leading voices on fantasy sports, Matthew Berry is ESPN’s Senior Fantasy Sports Analyst. Known as the “Talented Mr. Roto,” he’s an Emmy winner for his work on ESPN2’s Fantasy Football Now. As one of the most popular columnists and podcasters on ESPN.com, he appears regularly on ESPN television and radio shows, including Sunday NFL Countdown, SportsCenter, and NFL Live. He is one of only four people to be in the Hall of Fame of both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He is the only person to collect four FSWA Writing Awards in a single year (2006), was an inaugural member of the FSWA Hall of Fame (2010), and currently serves as an advisor to the FSWA’s Executive Committee.
Matthew Berry’s new book “Fantasy Life” was released July 16.
What was your approach for writing your book compared to writing a fantasy sports article?
They were both similar and different. Similar in that before I open up a computer, I pretty much have an idea, an outline, and have done research for the article that I am about to write. With a column I know basically two things I am going to write: the open and the players I want to discuss (along with the supporting analysis). I tend to have a specific idea of what I want the flow to be and where it’s going. So it was similar in that before I ever started writing the book I had a bunch of "research" (the stories) and a sense of where I wanted to go. I spent almost a year on the outline, so I had the beginning, the middle, and the end and knew I wanted a typical fantasy football season and my life to sort of coincide and be the spine of the book that I could hang all the stories on. So mechanically it was the same. I'd re-write and re-write and keep trying to make it better up until my deadline. But where it was different is in my attitude towards it. Because it's a book, a permanent, for the rest of my life book, I put a ton of pressure on it and wanted to include everything. My first draft was about 150,000 words - way too long - I just had too many good stories and I also wanted to be very honest about myself and give my readers something new and honest. Open myself up in a way I never had before. It is the hardest and most rewarding thing that I have ever accomplished.
How long did it take you to write this? How did you decide on what to write?
It took a total of 1-2 years to come up with the concept, write and re-write the book proposal (about 30 pages), come up with an outline that made sense and solicit stories from readers and listeners. That took about a year. The second year was spent writing and then deciding which of the stories were the best. I had to re-interview people, condense 5,000 stories down to about 250, re-write the stories in my voice, editing them just for the best part of the story and then finally placing them all into an order to make the book flow. As for the concept, I didn't want to write a book about how to win your fantasy league. That kind of book doesn't have that much of a shelf life as the game is always changing and I felt the audience for that kind of book is narrow. And I didn't want to write about a specific season, that was already done in Fantasyland. I wanted a book that celebrated everything I love about fantasy sports and one that hopefully would still be enjoyable five years from now.
Will there be a sequel?
I may do another book if this one is successful. But not for a while. This was tough. I sold the book in February and it was due the following February for this July. So most of this book was written during football season (a crazy busy time for all of us in the fantasy industry) and during the time of the birth of my twin daughters and their first six months. I had to find the time late at night or on the weekends to work on the book. I'd want a lot more time before doing another one. But I'd certainly love it if people enjoyed this one so much that there was demand for another.
Can you share some of the highlights of “Fantasy Life” and why we should all go out a purchase it?
There are some amazing stories throughout the book. Page two of the book has a 10-team fantasy football league in Omaha, Nebraska. The winner of the league gets to pick out a tattoo for the loser of the league. So there is now a guy walking the streets in Omaha, Nebraska with a tattoo of Justin Bieber's head. That's page two. So, it's that kind of book. It celebrates everything that we all love about fantasy sports. The trash talk, the trophies, the insane draft day locations, the ingenious ways people try to cheat, heartbreaking losses, the best leagues and some really uplifting stories about the ways fantasy can bring light into even the darkest places.
I got stories about a guy who had to draft while dressed in a large fuzzy bird costume, a league where the loser has to dress as a lion while his league shoots him with paintball guns, people doing fantasy sports while their wife gives birth, while they are in the White House Situation Room, while they are overseas in a bomb attack.
Will you be doing any book signings for your book? How can one obtain an autographed copy of your book?
I'm doing a book tour, including doing a bunch of stops at various Dave & Buster's throughout the country. We're still figuring out dates but the tour dates will be on the website at http://www.fantasylifethebook.com/Events.aspx.
When writing fantasy articles, do you find it something that comes naturally with each article, or do you ever find yourself with writer’s block?
I get both writer’s block and some articles that are easier to write. It either typically just flows, versus I got nuthin’. During the times that I have writer’s block, one of my goto's is "hate mail" where I will, in some way, print and respond to angry email and tweets. So if you ever see an article from me with hate mail, chances are that was a tough week. I try not to go to that well too often, but people love those columns, I always get great feedback on them and they're fun to write. I put a lot of thought into my "open" and as soon as I turn in a column, I'm thinking of my next one.
Will we see you anytime again on FX’s “The League”? Any thoughts on screenwriting for the show?
I hope so. Loved doing that show and I'm a big fan. We've been talking about it, they got good feedback from their audience and the creators gave me a very nice blurb for my book. So we'll see.
You have been very successful in podcasting and writing and have won several awards for both. Is your approach for prepping for a daily podcast or writing a fantasy article the same? What do you like doing better?
Whether it is podcasting or writing an article, the analysis is the same. So the research is the same, it's just the method of delivering the analysis is very different. I specifically don't discuss the podcast show ahead of time with either Nate Ravitz or Jay Soderberg (AKA Pod Vader) because we want that loose, natural conversation flow. It's part of the charm of the show, we feel. Nate will write down some questions ahead of time but I don't know what they are, so I have to be prepared for anything. I enjoy doing the podcast more than writing the column. It's the platform where I get to express my personality the most. I am the most "me" on the podcast as there are certain things I can do on the pod that I can't in a column for ESPN.com.
As the face of fantasy sports, I think that sometimes you have an unfair target on your back as your fans feel that you have to always provide them with accurate fantasy sports advice. Your writing style combines comedy along with calling yourself out sometimes when your predictions are incorrect. How do you handle adversity when you are not always right?
Well, a lot of it stems from ESPN. First, because of the reach and popularity of ESPN, my picks and analysis are under a lot more scrutiny than maybe some other analysts are. So people are probably more aware of my wrong picks than others. And let's face it. ESPN is the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports and if you are their fantasy analyst, there's a higher expectation from someone working for ESPN than there might be for a website without as much visibility. I bring some of it on myself by both printing hate mail or re-tweeting angry tweets, so some people will write/tweet them in hopes of getting some internet fame and also by being a personality that isn't middle of the road. I have a very specific style and that's going to rub some folks the wrong way. I realize that I am insanely lucky and have an amazing job, so maybe there's some jealousy in there too. Who knows?
There are a couple of different ways to handle criticism. You can let it roll right off of you. When I first worked at ESPN, the criticism bothered me a little bit, but you get thick skinned over time. For every negative email or comment, I receive five positive emails and comments. I will say I am disappointed when other fantasy sports analysts take personal shots at me or other analysts. There is no reason for taking shots at other people. If you are a good fantasy analyst in the business, your work will speak for itself and you will rise up very quickly.
But luckily, people like that are few and far between. The response from the majority of the fantasy community so far has been amazing. Truly, I've been really touched by the tweets, emails and postings I've seen from other analysts in the fantasy sports community.
Brendan Roberts of ESPN gave me my start years ago in the fantasy sports business and I am forever grateful. What would you recommend to someone that is trying to get into the fantasy sports business today?
I have a lot of respect for Brendan Roberts and I used to do freelance stuff for him at Sporting News back in the day. I'm thrilled he is now here with us at ESPN. He's a great editor. The great news for people these days is that the barrier to entry is very low, so there's no excuse not to get started. The downside, of course, is that there is more competition. If I was starting out today, I'd go write for an established website that already has an audience, so you don't have to worry about traffic, hosting, any of the hassles that go along with your own thing. Sign up for acting and voice classes so that you are comfortable in front of a microphone. As more and more platforms emerge, there is going to be a need to be able to deliver fantasy advice on different platforms, be it a podcast, videocast, radio or TV. It’s easy today to create your own video with an iphone and uploading it to YouTube or something - there's no excuse not to be getting reps. Continue to study, work at your craft and offer up something that isn't being done. Also, make sure you get on Twitter and start getting involved in the community. Tweet at other analysts, answer questions yourself. Lots of great people on twitter out there but if you want to emulate someone other than any of the ESPN folks, start with Evan Silva of Rotoworld or Sigmund Bloom of FootballGuys. Both of those guys are fantastic. The competition is fierce, but you can create your own opportunities if you have enough passion. There is no conspiracy to keep good people out. If you have something new to say, something better to offer people, an audience WILL find you. Finally, if you're curious as to how I did it specifically, read Fantasy Life the book. I talk a lot about how I went from a 14 year old kid to ESPN and all the steps I took along the way.
You serve on the Executive Board as an advisor for the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and are a member of the FSWA Hall of Fame. You have won a number of FSWA writing awards and we thank you for your contribution. The FSWA may be expanding in the future to include podcasting awards. What are your thoughts?
The FSWA does a great job in helping promote that fantasy analysis should be taken seriously. More research goes into this than regular sports. There are so many new and different mediums for fantasy sports, so it makes logical sense to expand the awards to also include podcasting. I also feel that there should be an award for the best videocast as fantasy sports are expanding to youtube.com and to online video shows on lots of different websites.