An interview with Matthew Bates, co-author of the book 'Let's Talk Politics: How Different Sides Approach the Same Issues'

 

Click the picture to read a preview of the book or buy it on Amazon!

As you all know, I'm a big fan of the Q&A platform Quora. During my time using it, I had the good fortune of coming across the brilliant contributor Matthew Bates. Besides being one of the best and most respected writers on Quora, Matt is a father, husband, dog owner, and English teacher in Chicago. However, unless you regularly use Quora, he is just a regular citizen like you and me.

His knowledge on teaching and politics were so intriguing to me that I decided to follow him on Quora. I then found out that he co-authored the book "Let's Talk Politics: How Different Sides Approach the Same Issues" with Habib Fanny, who is another prominent voice on Quora.

In Let's Talk Politics, Matt and Habib — two everyday citizens from different sides of the political aisle — discuss various social issues like universal healthcare, gun laws, taxation, and American politics through the lens of their respective political orientations. Matt is a conservative while Habib is a liberal. What's unique about this book is that there's none of the name-calling, slander, and hysterical hatred that has so tragically become the norm in today's social and political arena. No, these are just two guys respectfully talking about their views on pertinent social issues from the perspective of their political affiliations.

I reached out to Matt to ask a few questions about his experience writing the book. What follows are his answers to my questions, lightly-edited for style (and comedic effect). I'm really, really, really excited that he agreed to lend me his time to answer some of my questions so I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


Questions and Answers

Hi Matt, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me.

No problem!

Let's get started then. With close to 50,000 followers on Quora, you’re clearly already very well-known and respected on the platform. Why did you then feel motivated and/or the need to write Let’s Talk Politics given that you already have such a strong online presence?

I've wanted to be a published author since I was in high school. I wrote on Quora for fun, but I realized, after seeing some other Quorans who published their answers, that I could do the same. 

I also had dreams of turning my Quora hobby into a real writing career. This book was going to prove to me and my wife that people would actually pay to read what I write. I expected to sell 50 copies, and told my wife that anything over 100 copies would be a huge success for a self-published book by an amateur. We sold 130 copies in the first two days, and have averaged 20 sold each week since then. 

Those are fantastic numbers for a first-time author! Congratulations!

Thank you!

Let's talk about this idea of being an author then because it seems to me it has this air of grandeur to it (or, at least, people ascribe this to it). Hence, people perceive writing a book as something that only “overachievers” can do and certainly not something that “regular” people like you and me are capable of doing. Given your experience with writing Let’s Talk Politics and the fact that you’re just a normal, everyday guy, what would you say to the people that lack this confidence to believe that they could write a book?

People probably worry too much about getting their grammar correct. I hired an editor, and even then, there were mistakes in the first publication. Some of my fans found the mistakes and emailed me about them, and I was able to fix them and re-upload the book to Amazon, so only people who bought the book in the first few days got the copy with the mistakes. 

Too many people try to write novels as their first book as well. Since this book is a collection of opinion essays, it was easier to write than a novel with a long plot and subplots. That's the number one piece of advice I give people who ask me how to get started writing books: don't start with a novel. Start with a collection of essays about the same topic. 


 
Don’t start with a novel. Start with a collection of essays about the same topic.
— Matthew Bates

That's a very interesting point you make about the novels versus essays when writing books. On that note, allow me to shift gears and focus on the book-writing process itself. Walk us through the step-by-step process of writing Let’s Talk Politics from idea to final product.

I used a pseudonym on Quora from summer 2016 to March 2017. I had 14,000 followers with that account, then I quit. Before I quit, though, I'd interacted with Habib a few times in the comments sections to our political answers. 

I returned with my real name six weeks later, and quickly got my followers back. That's when I asked Habib if he'd be interested in doing a book with me. I actually had the idea several years ago, when I was a regular contributor to a progressive website's blog. I got into very lengthy debates with the progressives there, and I thought that our debates would be interesting enough to print. But it wasn't until years later that I got around to doing it, this time with Habib. 

We picked about 25 questions to each answer from our own viewpoints. Then we added to the questions as we worked on them.

It must have taken quite a long time to write/complete the book then, am I right?

It took us from April to December, 2017 to write and complete it. But there were week-long stretches where we didn't make any progress. We're busy guys. That said, when I had the time and was in the mood to work on the book, I did it in 2-3 hour spurts per day. I also write on Quora 2-3 hours per day. I find it relaxing. 

Talk to us about the challenges of writing Let's Talk Politics. What was the most difficult part of writing it?

Finding the time and motivation to keep working on it. The reason I find answering questions on Quora so relaxing and rewarding is because I get instant positive feedback in the form of upvotes and comments. When I wrote something for the book, it just sat there for months, waiting for publication.

Thankfully, you're now able to reap the fruits of your labor, so what was the most satisfying part of this journey?

Having a physical copy of my book on my bookshelf at home. It feels like a high school dream come true. Now all I need to do is buy a Jeep Wrangler and date a cheerleader, and my high school dream punchcard will be complete.

Amen on the cheerleader part. Damn social hierarchies of high school. As Apocalypse from the movie X-Men: Apocalypse so beautifully said "Everything they've built will fall! And from the ashes of their world, we'll build a better one!"

?

My reaction exactly. Anyway, let's get back on track! 

It feels like a high school dream come true. Now all I need to do is buy a Jeep Wrangler and date a cheerleader, and my high school dream punchcard will be complete.
— Matthew Bates

What advice would you give to those that are already planning on writing a book?

Use Vellum to create the e-book, and sell it on Amazon. Vellum costs about $200, but you can make all the ebooks you want once purchased. [Editor's note: Here are some alternatives for Windows users since Vellum is only for Mac.]

Amazon makes it easy to sell the books. They also make it easy to sell physical copies of the books. Get a professional to design the cover [Editor's note #2: Via one of the podcasts I listen to, I heard about the company DesignCrowd. Go to this link and scroll down a bit to get a discount on your first design]Do not jump right into novels. Try starting with a collection of essays.

Before I get the chance to go wildly off-topic again with misplaced references to X-Men movies, let's wrap up the interview with one final question. On a scale of 1-10 – with 10 being the best – how awesome is Quora?

It's about an 8. It's been good to me, but I have an audience there. I can see why some people try it and then walk away from it, if they don't find an audience very quickly. It's also very addictive and time-consuming. 

Also, they really, really need to improve their messaging system. There's no way to pin messages to the top. I often get messages from people that I want to reply to when I get the chance, but then those messages get pushed down the list by others, and I forget all about them. 

I'm lucky that you saw and replied to my message then! Matt, I want to thank you very, very much for taking the time out to answer my questions. I wish you all the best with your current and future endeavors in life and on Quora and I hope that the Chicago snow isn't hitting you too hard!

[Shakes the snow off his beard]

Thanks for your support! I really do appreciate it!


Recap

I'm very happy and grateful to have had the opportunity to chat with Matt about his experience with co-authoring his first book. I just wanted to point out two things that stood to me from his answers.

First of all, the advice to start with a collection of essays about the same topic instead of writing a novel is an argument that I very much agree with. I think that writing a novel (and fiction in general) requires a very different skillset that I imagine has a pretty steep learning curve; this might be 'too much too soon' for new authors. Don't run before you can walk, right?

Secondly, Matt points out that finding the motivation to write the book was the most difficult aspect of the experience rather than, as I/you may have expected, mastering the technical details of publishing. I think this is evidence of just how accessible the experience of self-publishing has become thanks to the Internet (and Amazon). To use economists' jargon, the barriers to entry to the market are lower than ever, which means that the number of excuses we have to not write a book should have dropped just as sharply.

Speaking of excuses, you have no excuses to not buy the book! Click the picture link(s) above in order to buy it on Amazon in e-book or paperback format!


Purpose

You probably think that writing a book is something you could never, ever, do because, hey, you're just some regular guy or gal, right? I asked Matt for this interview exactly because I wanted to debunk this flawed mindset; this mindset of "there is a certain group of people that is far beyond me and achieves great things in life, but I am beneath them."

All that we do, all that we are, begins and ends with ourselves.
— Arno; Assassin's Creed Unity

I wanted to show that books are written by regular people too. They are written by English teachers that father three kids and have a ridiculously cute dog. Writing books is not an activity reserved for the great deities like the Gary Vaynerchuk's and Seth Godin's of the world. I can stretch this to other activities that you probably think are beyond you like writing a blog, starting a business, and more such achievements.

I once heard a funny theory/concept called "there are no adults." This describes how most people experience their childhood, adolescence, and sometimes even early adulthood thinking that there is this group of people (adults) that are "in charge" because they know what they're doing far more than "non-adults" do, are lightyears more intelligent, and, consequently, will always be a class above them. These non-adults think that they're just mere mortals, always destined for mediocrity. I could never do what those adults do, I'm just some guy/gal.

At some point in the lives of these "non-adults", and for whatever reason, they suddenly realize that there are, in fact, no adults. The people that they thought were so high and mighty and far more intelligent or capable than them are actually far more similar to them than they are dissimilar. This epiphany shatters the inferiority complex that they lived with for their entire lives as they are no longer held back by the fear of the past.

It's time for you too to realize that there are no adults.

It's time to stop imprisoning yourself with these limiting beliefs and start becoming the agent of your own success.

It always seems impossible until it’s done
— Nelson Mandela

See you, Space Cowboy.