Lena Dunham just sold a book to Random House for $3.7 million dollars. I think Girls is a great show and I'm rooting for Dunham, though I probably won't read her book—celebrity memoirs are pretty low on my reading list. I never got around to reading Bossypants, for example, and I'm far more interested in what Tina Fey has to say than in what advice Lena Dunham has to offer at this point in her career. Tin House Magazine co-editor Rob Spillman has a piece up on Salon today that uses the Bossypants/Dunham comparison as a jumping off point for a discussion of how celebrity book advances like this one are indicative of a corporate publishing culture that values short-term sales over developing a solid backlist:
It has been reported that Tina Fey received an advance of over $6 million for “Bossypants.” A huge number, but at the time she already had nearly 10 years of “Saturday Night Live” plus two years of “30 Rock” under her belt, not to mention a visionary editor, Reagan Arthur, helping her. The genuinely sharp, funny and widely appealing “Bossypants” went on to sell more than a million copies. Rough math figures that Random House will need to sell a minimum of 500,000 copies of Dunham’s advice book to break even. Good luck with that.
Even if they do break even or if somehow every single person who watched the premiere of Dunham’s show “Girls” buys the book — all 872,000 of you out there according to Nielsen — is this any way to run a publishing company? Put aside the cultural impact question for a second. The whole approach seems short-sighted at best.
Read the whole thing, and don't forget that Tin House is throwing a party at Holocene tomorrow night to celebrate the release of their Portland/Brooklyn issue.