An Interview with Kenneth Ackerman.
Abstract from Interview
1:26 Ackerman is unsure how his book came to be on Booknotes. It was his first book in about 15 years and he was not a well-known author, so he was surprised to be considered for the program. He was an avid watcher of the program and assumed a show of its caliber would look for well-known people.
2:59 Ackerman prepared a great deal for the appearance, even creating a detailed list of facts, dates, and ages of the character in the book that he thought could come up in the interview. He also watched episodes with a clinical eye, paying attention to the kinds of questions asked. But in some ways this did not prepare him for the appearance because the questions Brian Lamb asked would vary so much – asking about the book, your personal life, minor details, big picture issues, and your process as a writer. Ackerman also did a mock interview with a relative also in the book industry to prepare.
5:45 The program was not live, but it was live to tape, so the show was very similar in real time to what the audience ultimately saw on the air. Mentions the plain black background which meant that there was nowhere for the author to hide and, though Lamb was a gracious host, he got right in to questions with no niceties at the top of the 50 minute question session.
7:04 Ackerman is not entirely convinced that an hour-long program for books is generally a good thing. Instead, he believes that the program and format were successful because Lamb was such a strong interviewer who was able to shape the hour and control the author. He also thinks that the format was successful because of how thoroughly Lamb read the book, mentioning the scribbles he saw in his own book when he appeared on the show.
10:25 How extensively Lamb read the book is certainly not standard practice for interviewers and it greatly impacted the interview. Lamb’s political background and job at C-SPAN also greatly impacted the interviews.
13:36 Ackerman believes that the reading public has a great deal of interest in the kinds of writing process questions asked by Lamb. He holds that the Booknotes series did for writers what C-SPAN did for Congress – it changed the game by forcing them to sit down on camera, removing the mystery of the process.
16:20 Other interviewers would ask biographical questions in interviews, so that was not unique. But what was unique was the kinds of questions asked. Lamb went beyond “cute” stories to show what about the writer’s life experiences relate to the book’s subject.
19:55 He was surprised by Lamb having him describe the various extramarital affairs that took place in the book.
22:07 Ackerman did watch Booknotes before appearing on the show, as previously mentioned. Being on the show changed his opinions of the program. The interview was a challenging process so he had more sympathy for the other authors who had appeared. But does mention that even though the interview was difficult, that Lamb was never trying to stump anyone.
23:41 Thinks that the program is significant because it opened up a huge audience for these kinds of books. He believes that the program also shaped what kinds of books were published, as the show revealed an audience for certain kinds of non-fiction. Ackerman also feels that the biographical and process questions which Lamb asked pushed more transparency for authors, leading to modern things like all writers having websites and social media to be closer to their audience.
26:10 Ackerman would have certainly accepted if asked back to the program. But he supports the idea that an author could only appear once because it meant that the program would not become stale and that new authors could get the opportunity to appear.
27:20 Being on the show certainly improved Ackerman’s book sales and attention, calling this the “C-SPAN spike.” This spike was the short-term benefit. The long-term benefit was the legitimacy which being on the program lent him as an author.
29:04 Appearing on the program reinforced what he already felt about writing, which is that your own background and biases greatly impact your work and the stories that you tell.
30:15 Since appearing on Booknotes Ackerman wrote and published two more books while also continuing his job as a lawyer. He has also created his own press, purchasing the rights to his four books so that he could release digital copies.
33:56 The impact of Booknotes was to change the dynamics of book writing, bringing the process of writing and the authors themselves out into the public. He also feels that this shapes buyers’ habits because buyers purchase books from authors they like.
36:08 Brian Lamb is one of his heroes because of both his time working on Capitol Hill and because of his work as an author. This is because Ackerman feels that Lamb has changed both politics and publishing by making them more accessible, public, and transparent.
Lamb, Brian, 1941-
C-SPAN (Television network)