Some important questions come up regarding book trailers, the bizarre and tautological video ads for books that now accompany most major releases. First: why do they exist at all? In the time it takes to watch a one, you could open a book (or find an excerpt) and read, by definition determining if the book were worth reading—have we really become so lazy?
Yes. And given that advertising has wormed its way into branded taxis and henna tattoos on boxers' backs, we shouldn't be surprised to see it goosing the venerable book. A better question is: why didn't we see book trailers in the 20th century? Did it really take this long for the book industry to figure out how to advertise books on video?
Once again, yes. The phrase "book trailer" first appears in the New York Daily News in 2002, in a gossip piece about Jim Carrey doing a movie adaptation of John Scott Shepherd's corporate-redemption novel Henry's List of Wrongs. An Up in the Air that never got off the ground, Henry's List of Wrongs didn't make it to a theater near you, but Simon & Schuster produced a "40 second 'book trailer'" starring Carrey to promote the novel. (Also, on the back of Henry's List of Wrongs, readers are reminded that the book is "about to be made into a film starring Jim Carrey.")
Later in 2002, the phrase appears in the Village Voice's coverage of Canadian DJ Kid Koala's graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall. "The uber-curious can check out a 'book trailer'," Tricia Romano writes, quoting the new phrase as the News does and showing that book trailers did not have to star Jim Carrey—they could also be cool.
Eight years on, book trailers still fall into the categories established by Nufonia Must Fall and Henry's List of Wrongs: a majority play out like short films (Kid Koala's minimalist skronk is great on the Nufonia Must Fall trailer) while a minority gather famous people that the author knows and has them crack a few jokes. The best trailers combine these two strategies into celebrity-studded shorts that give the book—and the author—a touch of glitter. It makes sense that book trailers are tied in with celebrity: they are about the branding of the author as much as the selling of the book.
Lowboy, by John Wray (Picador USA)
Zach Galifianakis, who looks like he was dragged out of the Screaming Trees' tour van circa 1992, twists the celebrity-centered book trailer by appearing as author John Wray while the real John Wray interviews him about his writing process. Galifianakis' answers will satisfy anyone who's a fan of "Between Two Ferns" ("I'll write 'end' first, then 'the'"), but the never-explained binary keyboard with two giant "0" and "1" keys is what really sells this.