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Before Tessa Bailey became a Spicy BookTok favourite and a ubiquitous name on bestseller tables in bookstores around the world, she wrote more than 50 other romance novels.Handout

Tessa Bailey is feeling the pressure.

“I’ve just got back from an emergency trip to the chiropractor,” she tells The Globe when reached at her home on Long Island, N.Y. “My neck has locked up because of the stress of going on the book tour, and worrying about people liking the book.”

And while the treatment was successful – “she twisted my neck, and 45 fireworks went off in my spine,” Bailey reports – it hasn’t necessarily alleviated her anxiety. Playing the part of superstar romance author, Bailey has travelled to five cities in six days to promote her latest bestseller, Secretly Yours, which debuted at No. 2 on our chart.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, but I’ve had this weird success with It Happened One Summer and Hook, Line, and Sinker,” says Bailey, referring to her fizzy, fun Bellinger Sisters series (an Alexis Rose-type socialite moves to a seaside town and falls for a hunky fisherman; her sister follows her there and falls for the fishing boat captain’s first mate) which dominated the beach read category in both 2021 and 2022.

Before Bailey became a Spicy BookTok favourite and a ubiquitous name on bestseller tables in bookstores around the world, she wrote more than 50 other romance novels, some standalones, others part of series mining the amorous potential of everything from vampires to cops to lifeguards and DIY, via the HGTV-inspired Hot and Hammered trilogy.

“I wouldn’t say the first 10 years of my writing career weren’t successful,” says Bailey. “This is so different. It’s very visible. There’s always this fear that I’m going to do something, and it’s all going to go away.”

Here, we chat with her about going viral, feeding the romance beast, and the art of writing a really good sex scene.

What do you think it was about the Bellinger Sisters series that made it such a breakout?

It was what every author hopes for, that you’re going to have the book that goes viral. It’s just out there, and particularly with It Happened One Summer, it just caught fire on BookTok, and you can’t control that. I do think us calling it a book “inspired by Schitt’s Creek” happened to land in the moment when that show was having a huge surge in popularity. It was magical marketing, just at the right moment, cross-sectioning with the fact that it was probably my best book I’ve ever written. It was luck and opportunity colliding.

On the subject of your publisher wanting more books: I’m always so impressed by how prolific romance authors are. This year, for example, you’ve got two books coming out.

Three, actually! That’s a recent development, where they called me and said, “Listen, let’s harness this wind while it’s blowing.” We have to be prolific because romance readers are voracious. They read so much more than readers of any other genre. We’re talking between five and seven books a week. Some of them are reading 30 books a month. It’s a lifestyle, almost, reading romance. By virtue of the demand, we write more, we write faster, we don’t take breaks. We’re putting the material out there as fast as we can to keep our readers engaged.

Do you monitor what people are saying about your books online? Are you going on BookTok to see what they think about, say, Hook, Line, and Sinker?

I only look at things that I’m tagged in. That’s a recipe for disaster. You know, 10 people are going to love it, and 10 people are going to hate it. Every book I’ve released, I always have to remind myself: You always think everyone hates it, and you actually go out and talk to readers and it’s their favourite book. I just love engaging with readers, so if they’ve left me a review or said something really nice about my book, I always like to say thank you.

It feels like we’re in this wonderful golden age of romance, where there’s this really joyful embracing of the genre. Does that resonate with you as an author?

Completely. There’s been this real surge of a younger readership. During the last three or four years, my readers seem to be so young. At signings, I have high-school students whose parents brought them. That younger generation doesn’t [care] about what anybody thinks about what they like. I see it with my own daughter who’s 11. She’s too young to be a romance reader, but she’s unapologetic in what she likes. It’s a new readership, and the attitude toward romance in general has shifted, and it’s getting more respect.

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The internet is one thing, but how do people in your “normal” life respond when you tell them you’re a romance author?

They’re always like, “What?!” It’s so odd to them. Now, this is what they’re saying to my face, and who knows what they say behind my back, but I’ve never had anybody react with negativity. I don’t think it’s something to be ashamed of, and maybe that’s the realization we’re coming to. It’s always been this great thing that takes the audience out of themselves, and puts them in someone else’s shoes. It puts them on this journey they can go and really embrace because they know they’re going to get a happily ever after. They can really let themselves feel everything without any fear of a terrible ending. That’s what makes the genre so great.

That’s something I think people miss about the romance genre: That idea that you’re in a safe space, you’re on a journey with a trusted pair of hands that’s going to end well.

It’s entertainment without suffering. The audience is going to get that serotonin boost from sexy, spicy scenes, but there’s the context, and that’s something readers really look for. They want to know what led up to those intimate moments. What are the emotions happening behind the scenes in those moments? Readers don’t just want to read sex scenes on a page. They want the story that goes with it.

Which is not to say those spicy scenes aren’t part of the attraction.

They are for me! But I couldn’t just go in and read those. They wouldn’t mean anything to me without the characters’ journey together leading up to it.

Is there an art or a formula to the spicy bits?

I love writing them so much. When I’m writing those scenes, it’s where my Id comes into play. Feminism goes out the window. As long as there is very clear consent between both those characters, and it’s very clear they’re both enjoying what they’re doing, it’s always so sexy to me when it’s like, “Just objectify me. I want to be a sex symbol just for now. I want you to be so attracted to me you can’t control yourself.” All they have to think about is their body in their moment, and what their body wants. That is such a relief, and a freeing moment where it’s nothing else except this. That’s the escape that I want.

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