Lena Dunham Must Sell 1 Million Books to Make $3.7 Mil Deal Pay Off

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Lena Dunham

Random House is hoping the "Girls" creator's upcoming memoir is more "Bossy Pants" than "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?"

This story first appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Random House is taking a big risk by spending $3.7 million on HBO’s Girls creator Lena Dunham’s proposed book Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned.

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Why? Comedic memoirs have long been dominated by men such as Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser. And while women including Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler have made inroads of late, to earn out an advance of that size, Random House would have to sell about 1 million books, a tall order in today’s marketplace.

Fey sold more than 2 million copies of Bossypants, her 2011 humor memoir, but the 30 Rock star was an established brand with a network sitcom, hit movies (Date Night, Mean Girls) and a run on Saturday Night Live when she snagged a $5 million advance in 2008.

A better comparison is Handler, who parlayed a best-seller (2005’s My Horizontal Life) into her own E! talk show, then followed that with 2008’s Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, which has moved nearly 2 million copies.

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The worry for Random House is that it’ll end up with Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), the book from The Mindy Project star and creator Mindy Kaling that has sold about 300,000 copies since arriving in October 2011 -- making it a moderate hit but not enough to justify the advance Dunham received.

To paraphrase her memoirist character from Girls: Random House needs Dunham, 26, to be the voice of her generation.