Lena Dunham's Advice Is Worth $3.5 Million

Esther Zuckerman
The Atlantic Wire
Lena Dunham's Advice Is Worth $3.5 Million

Lena Dunham's advice is worth upwards of $3.5 million, the reported amount that Random House paid the creator and star of Girls to write her first book, a collection of advice-based essays called Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned. While the effort already has its detractors (see: Gawker), there is reason to believe it will work. Why? Her Twitter account. 

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The accounts that most of us follow on Twitter tend to fall roughly into one of three categories: news organizations, celebrities, and people we actually know. But Dunham has managed to work her way into a rarefied sub-category hybrid; she's one of the “celebrities we think we actually know.” Searching on Twitter for "lena dunham friend" yielded results from users expressing how they think Dunham is a kindred spirit: 

.everything @lenadunham says sounds like I am talking to a best friend and that is why she is awesome. No pretension.

— Aliza Greenberg (@AlizaG) October 7, 2012

Or how they just want to be her real life BFF: 

I want Lena to be my best friend. -- Lena Dunham Book Deal Skyrockets To $3.6 Million: Report huff.to/RDFZLM via @huffpostwomen

— Sarah Lucas (@sjlucas07) October 4, 2012

And this is the key to giving disembodied advice to people you do not know. As Faye Penn wrote in her review of the proposal for the New York Observer: "She really does have the BFF thing down." But this quality of friendship is something Dunham has created not just on her HBO show Girls but online, by being someone who her followers rely on for, if not words of wisdom, at least solidarity.

I'm noticing a real trend of you guys asking me to validate your binge eating on twitter... It's an honor 2 serve!

— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) June 8, 2012

She's charmingly self-effacing about her own life, too. According to The New York Times, which got a copy of the book proposal, too, one chapter "titled 'Body,' reads, 'Red lipstick with a sunburn: How to dress for a business meeting and other hard-earned fashion lessons from the size 10 who went to the Met Ball.'" We've seen this kind of confessional before. Before the Emmys, Dunham tweeted: 

Perversely thrilled about this zit I just sprouted and assaulted 3 days before the Emmys. Not a humblebrag just a brag.

— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) September 21, 2012

On Twitter, Dunham gives herself the role of your friend who is mostly like you—she has zits! and she goes after them!—except she gets to go to the Emmys. (But even then, she eats cake naked on a toilet.) Like Mindy Kaling, no career slouch herself, Dunham gets away with this because of her affable, self-skewering style and by speaking on topics that feel both charmingly specific and as universal as one would want advice and life lessons to be. We don't expect Dunham's book to be a schmaltzy self-empowerment tale, but rather a straight-forward if sardonic expansion of the world she's alluded to online. All of her previous writing, but her tweets in particular, serve as a possible outline for what could be, if she continues in the same vein, a lively little book. Penn writes that "the proposal organizes her musings into six chapters: Work, Friendship, Body, Sex, Love, Big Picture." Surveying her recent tweets, one finds that Dunham has already been doling out advice for some time. On love:

I find it most romantic to send a boy a love song written for a girl and vice versa

— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) August 30, 2012

This could probably turn into a chapter about her relationship with Jack Antonoff, right? Or, more likely, this is an example of a winningly pithy entry in a larger list of dating dos and don'ts. That's well-tread territory for sure, but jokes or adages like these prove that she's approaching familiar material from a fresh angle.

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The book could serve as a platform for musings about modern correspondence from the woman who gave us the "perfect Twitter moment:" 

Just know that if you didn't use any exclamation points in your correspondence with me I am spiralling.

— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) August 3, 2012

Every time someone says "TMI" to me an innocent fairy dies. Every single time.

— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) September 5, 2012

The ridiculous, abbreviation-happy annals of modern communication are ripe for dissecting and shaping some etiquette rules around, and the media savvy (and saturated) Dunham's casual but oddly insightful expertise makes her a perfect candidate for the job.

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We would love to hear more about her relationship with her parents, too: 

Keep postponing leaving my family home & sleeping at my new apartment. Knowing me, I probably won't sleep there until the lease is up.

— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) January 26, 2011

Told my mom I bought her a cool nylon tote bag and all she wrote back was "are there internal compartments" (with no question mark). RUDE!

— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) October 9, 2012

For all the 20-something angst of Girls, Dunham has an apparent and announced closeness to her folks. Though you can practically hear the chorus of people complaining about how this relationship is just another example of her privilege, her clinginess is unique to her and yet familiar to others.  There's the more heartwarming stretch of the book right there.

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A pop culture-savvy, self-deprecating, personable Twitter persona like Dunham's has previously proven a successful model, in slightly different variations, both on Twitter and in publishing. Recent authors Catilin Moran and Mindy Kaling, the latter of which has been described as an "imaginary best friend," both cultivated their styles on the quick-burst social network and turned them into hard copy sensations. Moran used Twitter to crowd source for her book, How To Be a Woman, asking questions of her followers and putting their answers in the final publication. The spirit of the 140 character-medium was present in Kaling's essay collection, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), as she listed her favorite moments in comedy and revealed the narcissistic photos of herself in her Blackberry. The Twitter-to-book conversion paid off for both authors: Kaling's book made its way onto the New York Times Best Seller list and Caitlin Moran's had sold 400,000 copies in 16 countries before its American edition was released. (Though, as Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke points out in the New York Observer, Dunham's television show gets its not-outstanding numbers from a coastal audience.)

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Like her predecessors, Dunham's Twitter account reads like a friend who gets to do cooler things than you (like go to awards shows and Justin Bieber concerts and write/direct/star in her own TV show) but remains down-to-earth and relatable despite all the glamour. Her nearly 400,000 Twitter followers would seem to suggest that lots of people consider her a friend, virtual or not. And people tend to seek advice from their friends, we suspect even if that means buying their book.