The Difference Between Lena Dunham and Aziz Ansari’s Million-Dollar Book Deals


Hey, remember when Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned’ (now a book that you can touch with your own hands), was first announced to the media in late 2012? Headlines like “Lena Dunham has a memoir” and “Lena Dunham’s memoir is going to auction $1 million as a minimum” were the source of quite a few slings and arrows in the press.

Dunham’s memoir sold for an advance of $3.7 million, a price that was par for the course in the context of the slew of celebrity memoirs that hits bookstores each month — just a year later, Parks and Recreation‘s Aziz Ansari, sold his currently untitled book, described as a look at “modern romance,” for $3.5 million. I was reminded of this when writing about Not That Kind of Girl earlier, and I thought that Dunham’s and Anzari’s advances were worth some comparison.

The two artists have some things in common. They’re both millennials with formidable Twitter feeds (Dunham 1.76 million, Ansari 4.25 million). They’re both tireless hustlers, in the best sense of the word. Their books are both Penguin Random House (although not at the time of signing, as the merger occurred in 2013). And, of course, they both have roles on critically acclaimed television shows, although Dunham is the creator, writer, director, and the lead of her show, albeit on the critically rarified but less mainstream HBO; Ansari is a supporting character on an NBC show starting its last season. Dunham is known as a writer, and Ansari is known, also, as a stand-up comedian, a role that requires its own flights of creativity and writing.

But out of the two, which deal was the source of 1,000 thinkpieces and vague concern trolling about whether-or-not a big deal like this was “right?” You guessed it, Dunham’s. Was there a similar level of outrage for Ansari’s book deal? No — and perhaps speaking to his smaller footprint, culturally, it basically was reduced to a side note.

The difference here speaks to a couple of things. Is gender playing a big role? Certainly! Also the difference in Dunham selling a book of essays “about her life” versus Ansari’s take on “modern love” where he was inspired “after reading Malcolm Gladwell.” Ansari’s book will be about his life, to be sure, but it’s not sold to the public as memoir in the same way. It is also probably the result of “Lena Dunham” being a loaded gun in the media representing a lot of ideas regarding young women and power, whereas Ansari, on the other hand, doesn’t represent every young man ever — or every young man of Indian-American heritage, either.

Certainly, Gawker didn’t post Ansari’s proposal, as they did for Dunham’s, an experience that she described in the New York Times Magazine‘s recent profile as a violation, “to put my unedited work out into the world. As a writer, there is nothing more violating. I would rather walk down the street naked — no surprise — than to have someone read my unedited work.”

In an effort to take the temperature of think piece outrage, we took a sample of five sites that wrote about these big book deals and compared what they wrote about Dunham to what they wrote about Ansari. One important result: there were no pieces that said “Does Aziz Ansari really deserve his book deal?”

Thinkpieceoff: Lena Dunham’s book deal versus Aziz Ansari’s book deal

From Slate:

Lena Dunham: “Why Lena Dunham’s Book Is Worth 3.5 Million” “But instead of judging what cash value the Dunham name realistically ought to have in the marketplace, I’d rather think about her valuable ideas.”

In Defense of Lena Dunham Being Young” “What I see, though, is someone who’s taken her raw talent and stacked-deck resources and smartly turned them into proven skill and a dedicated audience.”

Aziz Ansari: …

From Salon:

Lena Dunham: “Lena Dunham’s Absurd Advance” “Yet Random House’s rash deal with Dunham is the rule, not the exception. These decisions are why the corporate publishers are losing cultural relevance and why they might soon lose solvency as well.”

Aziz Ansari: “Aziz Ansari Writing Book About Love” “According to Publisher’s Weekly, Ansari is rumored to have received a $3.5 million advance from Penguin Books.”


Lena Dunham:Can Lena Dunham Sell as Many Books as Tina Fey? Random House Bets She Can” “Random House is taking a big chance by making such a big bet on an author whose fan base is concentrated in the under-30 demographic, a group not known for its willingness to pay for content of any kind.”

Aziz Ansari: …

From Deadline:

Lena Dunham:Lena Dunham Book Bidding at 3.6 Million” “The numbers for the book of advice and anecdotes from the UTA-repped 26-year old creator of the HBO series Girls should go even higher as publishers see her as an influential creative voice for young women.”

Lena Dunham Is Touchy, Touchy, Touchy About Her 3.5 Million Book Proposal” “But Dunham now is taking herself way too seriously over 12 unwitty sentences which Gawker describes (and I agree) are “indicative of a nauseating and cloying posture of precociousness that permeates the entire proposal”.”

Aziz Ansari:CAA Signs Aziz Ansari” “Ansari separately is writing a book for Penguin Press about how modern dating has been complicated by the Internet and other technological innovations.”

From Gawker:

Lena Dunham:Congratulations to Multimedia Brand Lena Dunham on Her 3.5 Million Book Deal” “Lena Dunham became eligible to vote in 2004, so you should listen to her.”

Here Is Lena Dunham’s 3.7 Million Book Proposal [Update]” The post that had her leaked proposal is currently a mess of litigation, that includes this sentence: “It’s basically literary lifecasting: Fully 13% of the proposal’s pages are devoted to reproducing a diary Dunham kept of what she ate in 2010.”

Aziz Ansari:What Makes a 3,000,000 Book? How to Land a Celebrity Book Deal” “But the book agents I talked to all agreed: the book proposal trumps celebrity, and it has to be really fucking excellent to get you seven figures.” [This piece discusses both Dunham and Ansari.]

How Much Would You Pay Aziz Ansari to Write You a Book?” “$3.5 million ($3,500,000)? Sounds about right!”