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Bestselling Author Tessa Bailey Talks About Her New Book ‘Fangirl Down’ + Why People *Really* Read Romance

We caught up with the bestselling author to discuss Fangirl Down, what led her to become an author & more!

Mystery, fantasy, literary fiction, memoir…the list of book genres is long and plentiful. But there is one genre that supersedes all of them: romance. Year after year, romance novels remain the bestselling and most profitable book genre by far — they generated more than $1.4 billion dollars in revenue in 2022. With their heartfelt storylines of hope, love, human connection and the guaranteed happily ever afters, millions of readers seek comfort and refuge within the pages of this beloved genre. And few people know romance better than Tessa Bailey.

Bailey is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 romance novels, including the #BookTok famous It Happened One Summer and Hook, Line and Sinker. Entertainment Weekly even dubbed her “The Michelangelo of dirty talk.” When she’s writing, Bailey’s goal is to bring readers heat, laughter and a happily ever after — and her latest rom-com, Fangirl Down, out now, captures all this and more.

Related: Kristin Hannah Talks About Her New Novel ‘The Women’ + How She Went From Attorney to Bestselling Author

Tessa Bailey’s first foray into sports romance

The new book follows down-and-out professional golf player Wells Whitaker and his #1 fan, Josephine Doyle. Wells was once golf’s hottest rising star, but lately all he has to show for his promising career is…a whole lot of nothing. Then there’s Josephine, who always shows up. He grumbles, she smiles. He huffs, she cheers.

So when Wells finally quits and his fangirl disappears, he quickly realizes he’s made a mistake. Determined to get back in the game, he hatches a plan: ask Josephine to be his caddy and help turn his game around — then they’ll split the prize money. Currently Josephine’s personal and financial life is in shambles so she accepts his offer. What transpires next is a battle of wills — and hearts. At its core, the novel is an emotional story of love and loyalty no matter the circumstances.

Woman’s World caught up with Tessa Bailey to discuss Fangirl Down and how this story hits closer to home than any of her other novels. She also shared how she fell in love with the romance genre, what makes a good romance novel and why people really read romance. Here, you’ll find out the answers and get a sneak peek inside Bailey’s creative process.

Woman’s World: Did you always know you wanted to become an author?

Tessa Bailey: I started reading romance when I was 14. I was at a really boring family reunion in Maine — not that Maine is boring! And I stumbled upon a copy of Hidden Fires, by Sandra Brown, in my grandmother’s luggage and I read it cover to cover in one sitting. And I was like “what is this?”  It was a good introduction to romance because I didn’t realize this was what I’d been searching for in every kind of story my whole life. Whether it was movies or TV shows or just regular books I was reading in school, I was always like, “where’s the romance plot?” I was always looking for it. I just didn’t realize that there was a whole genre for it. So that’s where it all started.

I continued reading over the years, but I never thought I would actually be an author. In my mind, that was only reserved for Ivy League graduates or really, really smart people. But I had my daughter when I was 27 and I realized I needed to figure out what I was good at. I wanted to find my career path. I wanted her to be proud of me one day, so I just took a shot. I’m shocked that I’m here now! I thought it would maybe be just a hobby at first. I feel so lucky that I’ve gotten this far with it.

WW: In the book’s acknowledgments, you said you sometimes brainstorm story ideas on social media. Can you tell us a little about that?

Bailey: It’s been a crazy journey! Going back about two years, I had an idea of this down-and-out professional golfer, who has taken a massive decline over the course of his career. He’s ready to quit yet he has this one dedicated fangirl who keeps showing up no matter what. He almost gets annoyed with her, but secretly deep down she’s the only reason he keeps showing up. Then one day she’s just gone.

That was the idea I expressed on social media once and people kept emailing me about it consistently for a year. They kept saying, “I just can’t stop thinking about that story idea.” And the truth was, I couldn’t stop thinking about it either. I always have a lot of ideas, but when I really keep replaying one over in my head and giving it texture and things like that, that’s when I know something’s there. When an idea has longevity and it keeps me interested, I know I need to put it down on paper.

Now…selling the idea of a golf romance to everyone else will be tricky. I’m trying to convince people! I keep saying “just trust me on this! It’s going to be a sexy book and he’s a really sexy character!”

WW: What did your research process look like for Fangirl Down?

Bailey: The research process for this book was a lot more intense than usual! I wouldn’t say I watched a ton of golf before this, but I knew enough to understand what the PGA Tour was, how the rounds work, you know, basic things. I read two different books. One was called Who’s Your Caddy? and the other was called Zen Golf, which was about the mental aspect of golf. After I read that, I realized how the mental aspect seems to be the struggle most golfers have. You can be the best golfer in the world but if you slip mentally, you suddenly just can’t take a shot. I thought that was so fascinating.

There’s also this Netflix show called Full Swing, where they profile several golfers at different stages of their career. And some of them, just like my main character Wells, have taken a severe drop in their ranking and have no idea how to get back to the top.

WW: Once you move past the research phase, do you jump right into writing?

Bailey: For me the next phase is all about the characters! A lot of my stories are character-driven. The stories are about overcoming a personal obstacle as opposed to an outside force. I try to figure them out first. Once I know what makes each character tick, I figure out the next obstacle. There’s usually something — whether it’s in their past or where they’re going — that keeps them apart. There must be a compelling conflict because that’s what makes a good romance novel. There has to be a reason these two people can’t be together, and it usually lies within their past, their future or their goals. Once I have all that pinned down, I can structure the plot around it.

Tessa Bailey signs books at an event
Tessa Bailey signing copies of Fangirl Down in Georgia during a book event!via Tessa Bailey on Instagram

WW: Whether it’s for an escape or entertainment, there are so many reasons people read romance. Why do you think people read this genre?

Bailey: I honestly think one of the top reasons we read romance is because the significant other in the book is listening — really listening. Everyone thinks people read romance novels because of the sexy scenes and the spice, but it’s not always that! In these books, somebody’s listening to you. They are taking your tastes, your interests and how you feel about things, cataloging them and remembering them later down the road and calling them back. It makes you feel fully listened to and fully seen. That is the actual romance!

WW: What would you like readers to take away from Fangirl Down?

Bailey: I think my favorite part of the book is that Josephine is unconditionally loyal. There’s something about this book that gets me choked up. The story captures this idea of loyalty and trust and knowing somebody 100% and giving them that respect. I love what was built between these two characters throughout the book. At the end of this book, I really felt these characters would stand the test of time. I just felt it. I believed it. And I mean, I always do when writing about a couple but this time it felt like such a healthy relationship that they’d built. I’m proud of it. If readers take something away from my book, I hope it’s about how powerful mutual respect can be.

WW: In the book, Josephine is living with type 1 diabetes and you dedicated the book to your daughter, who has T1 diabetes. What was it like writing about something so close to home?

Bailey: Thanks so much. It’s not a book about type one diabetes, but it is definitely a theme. I know from my family’s day-to-day lives in our house, if you have type one diabetes, it’s 24 hours a day. It never stops. So as much as I didn’t want to make it only about the character’s diabetes, I still wanted it to read authentically. I obviously didn’t write this based on my daughter — that would be weird! But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t more invested in thinking up the most perfect character I could find.

You have to be so mentally tough to be a type one diabetic. My daughter is the toughest person I know — and she’s only 12! And I just thought “What kind of person would be the perfect complement to that type of personality?” And what I came up with was someone who doesn’t give you any free rides. He’s straightforward. It’s like you have to give as much as you get. And I think that that’s something my daughter would probably need. So that’s really the only part I took away from real life. I knew the character Josephine would need someone equally as tough who would help her rise to the occasion every day. It was very important to me to make sure I got it right.

WW: Can we talk about the male main character, or the MMC in the romance world: Wells Whitaker?

Tessa Bailey: Author Posing in Merch from new book
via Tessa Bailey on Instagram

Bailey: Yes! He tows the line between so grouchy and so kind. He’s like “I’m just going to take care of you and you’re going to deal with it!” In romance books, a lot of readers don’t like all the miscommunication — neither do I. So one of the things I wanted to work on in this book specifically was hardcore communication between the two characters. Like, nothing left unsaid even if it’s hard — get it out there and fix it. And I think that was easy to do with these two characters because they were both so honest. And Wells is honest to a fault!

Related: Best Book Club Books: 10 Page Turners, From Romances to Thrillers to Historical Fiction

WW: Why do you think the romance genre remains so popular?

Bailey: In recent years, the genre took a massive leap during a time where we were desperately in need of escapism. Romance is important to a lot of people and that’s because you can depend on it 100% of the time. No matter what journey you go on throughout the book, whether it’s sad or even devastating, you have this trust and this knowledge that you’re going to have a safe landing. The author is going to bring it home and you’re not going to be disappointed or gutted by the ending of the book.

There are very few things in this life that you can depend on or trust. And the fact that people can put their trust into a book is not a small thing. It is the most important thing, to find that trust, and romance delivers exactly that for a lot of people.

When you read romance, you’re allowing yourself to unleash your feelings and explore your feelings because you’re not holding back out of fear. The recipe for romance is a guaranteed happily ever after. This also gives readers hope. You’ll still feel all sorts of deep emotions as you read, but you can feel them even bigger knowing you have a safe place to land.

Check out Tessa Bailey’s latest rom-com Fangirl Down, available now.

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