Is Lena Dunham’s First Book Worth $3.5 Million?

No. It’s not. But that’s the price reported in the NY Daily News.

Dunham’s book has the working title Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned, and it is reported to include a humorous essays about her life as a 20-something woman. There are already comparisons between her book and Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which was a runaway success and earned her every penny of a reported $5 million advance – and I’m sure the royalty checks keep coming. Random House is betting that Dunham’s book will sell in equally impressive numbers. But it won’t.

I had never heard of Lena Dunham until last Friday. I’m not that familiar with Girls (though I’d heard of it), and I’ve never seen Tiny Furniture. I’m also over 30 (not very far over…), so maybe that’s to be expected. I’m not sure. I have been familiar with Tina Fey’s work for quite a while now. When her book came out, I saw her name, and I stopped to take a look. Lots of people did. Dunham does not have the name recognition that will draw in readers (this point is explored more fully over at Forbes). Even if all of her 360,000+ Twitter followers buy a copy, she still won’t hit the break-even mark.

There is also the issue of her audience to consider. It is assumed (and seems likely from where I sit) that this audience is made up of other 20-something women who will be able to identify with Dunham’s experiences. That’s great when it comes to TV shows, but it is less great when it comes to books. This demographic is not exactly known for its book-buying power. The people who are more known for buying books are not going to be as interested. If she were a hot young novelist, maybe.  But Dunham’s making her first book a book of essays. That just doesn’t have the same commercial appeal – no matter how funny it might end up being.

Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) exceeded expectations with her comedic memoir Let’s Pretend This Never Happened earlier this year. Readers were already familiar with her writing, though, from her wildly popular blog, and they had gotten to know her fairly well before the book ever hit the stands. Had Dunham gone a similar route, I would have more faith in her. Twitter and a show on HBO are not, I think, enough.

I’m not saying that Dunham doesn’t have a great book in her or that people won’t buy it. I just don’t think that enough people will buy it to make the $3.5+ million price tag worth it for Random House.  It also means that a lot of other authors, even established and respected ones, will not get put in print this next year. The money is gone, and I don’t think that it went to the right place.

What do you think? Does Dunham have the name recognition and the skill to wow readers and sell books? Or did Random House bet on the wrong book?