Author Shauna Robinson explains why you ‘Must Love Books’

Must Love Books by Shauna Robinson. Image courtesy Sourcebooks
Must Love Books by Shauna Robinson. Image courtesy Sourcebooks /

If you love books and find yourself searching for fulfillment in your life, you may relate to Shauna Robinson’s debut novel, Must Love Books an adult coming-of-age romance about Nora Hughes, an editorial assistant who went into the publishing industry full of dreams but finds herself five years in full of doubt.

With salary cuts, layoffs, and the departure of her best friend, Nora has less to love about her grueling job at Parsons Press, especially when the salary cuts come knocking on her door, making it impossible for her to afford her cost of living anymore.

Desperate, Nora takes on a second freelance job at a competitor press with her former Parsons boss and mentor, Lynn, telling neither Lynn nor her Parsons coworkers about the competing interests and her two jobs.

Balancing more than she can handle, Nora is trying to stay afloat, but all of that becomes more difficult as she grows closer to the charming and handsome Andrew Santos, Parson’s star author, who encourages her to find her happiness and seek more.

But just as Nora begins to find the courage and the tools to search for her happiness, everything comes to a disastrous head, leaving Nora to stand on her own and determine what she wants once and for all.

Culturess sat down with Robinson to discuss the complexities of writing about the publishing industry and the dreamy romance between Nora and Andrew in Must Love Books.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Culturess:  Must Love Books is largely set within the complex world of the publishing industry. What was it like to write a book about books?

Shauna Robinson:  It was fun to show the publishing industry in a different light. I drew from my own experiences working in nonfiction publishing, which involved working on books whose subject matter went way over my head.

I also got to throw in unglamorous things like layoffs, the realities of low salaries and selling books at a conference without anyone to help (though in my novel, Nora does get some help from an unlikely source, which is precisely how you know this book is pure fiction!).

Culturess:  How did your background in publishing inform the novel? Was it difficult or cathartic to revisit your experiences?

Robinson:  Setting the book in publishing began as a matter of convenience (no research needed when I already know the industry!), but I realized it also posed an opportunity to show a publishing world that reflected my own experiences.

I’ve already mentioned some of the grimmer aspects I pulled from, like layoffs and low salaries, but [there were] bright spots that inspired parts of the book too. I met some of the best, smartest, kindest people during my publishing days, and we still keep in touch.

Similarly, Nora really values the friendships she’s formed with the people she worked with. Publishing really does seem to be the place where all the kind booklovers go!

I started writing Must Love Books while I was an editorial assistant, so it was easy to draw from my experience when I was living it! But I wrote the bulk of the novel after I left publishing when I was writing from a more reflective viewpoint.

It was definitely nostalgic to look back on that experience as I wrote. It also made me miss San Francisco, the city Must Love Books is set in, because I didn’t live there anymore! I wanted to step through the page and revisit some of the places in the book, like Piedmont or the Mission.

“For every author who has gone through a particular struggle, there are many more readers going through the same thing. Publishing books that cover these issues gives readers a chance to feel seen and know that they’re not alone.” – Shauna Robinson

Must Love Books author Shauna Robinson. Image courtesy Sourcebooks
Must Love Books author Shauna Robinson. Image courtesy Sourcebooks /

Culturess:  The novel balances its romance with more real-world issues like Nora’s struggles with depression and mental health issues, student debt, and racism in the workplace. How did you navigate the romance storyline with Nora’s personal arc? Are there other conversations that deserve space or more space in the romance genre?

Robinson:  The initial idea for the book began with the first meeting between Nora and Andrew—the thought of Nora getting a bestselling author’s lunch order wrong was too amusing to pass up!

But even before I began writing, I also knew I wanted the main focus of Must Love Books to be Nora and her journey toward happiness and fulfillment, so I wrote the novel with that arc in mind.

The romantic storyline is secondary but crucial; it plays an important role in adding some levity and propelling Nora’s personal arc forward. Unlike Nora, Andrew has his life figured out (somehow). Meeting Andrew motivates Nora to take stock of her own life and start figuring out how to address her mental health struggles and career issues in a healthier way.

I’m all for books that cover weighty topics. For every author who has gone through a particular struggle, there are many more readers going through the same thing. Publishing books that cover these issues gives readers a chance to feel seen and know that they’re not alone.

Culturess:  As a debut writer with a professional background in publishing, what do you hope the average romance reader will take away from Must Love Books?

Robinson:  I hope readers will come away with a sense of hope for the future. We could all use a little hope. In Must Love Books, there are moments when Nora feels lost and helpless, and I think anyone who can relate to Nora’s struggles will find a message of hope by the end of the novel.

Culturess:  Andrew Santos is certain to be everyone’s next favorite book boyfriend. What was your favorite scene with him to write?

Robinson:  That’s hard to say—I loved writing every Andrew scene! His upbeat optimism is such a stark contrast to Nora’s dry sarcasm, which made writing their scenes a lot of fun.

There’s a scene at a conference where Andrew inadvertently creates more work for Nora by spontaneously announcing that he’ll be doing a book signing at her booth. They hardly know each other at this point, and it’s the first time we start to see how their personalities play off one another. It made for some fun banter in the process!

Culturess:  What can readers look forward to next? 

Robinson:  I’ve got a second novel in the works, though I’m not sure of the publication date yet. It’s completely unrelated to Must Love Books, but people who love bookish books should get a kick out of it.

It’s set in a small-town bookstore, featuring a protagonist who doesn’t even like reading. It’s lighter in tone than Must Love Books, but it still has a healthy dose of quarter-life crisis because I’m not done exploring that topic just yet!

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Must Love Books is available now wherever books are sold. Let us know if you add it to your TBR pile.