Field Trip: Slow Burn Books

If you’re still in the Valentine’s Day spirit this late in February – or, maybe you need something to help you feel the love – venture out with us to Calgary, Alberta’s Slow Burn Books. We chat with co-owners Nicola and Shannon about how the romance genre is more exciting (titillating?) than ever.

Photo (c) Nora Hanako.

The co-owners of Slow Burn Books, Nicola and Shannon, sitting in their store. There are shelves stocked with romance reads in the foreground, and they sit in front of a neon sign with their store name.


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Field Trip.

All Lit Up: First of all, congratulations on building the cozy, beautiful space that is Slow Burn Books! Please tell us what led to the decision to open a romance-first bookstore, and how you got started.

Slow Burn Books: If you’d asked us just a few years ago if opening a romance bookstore was something we saw ourselves doing, we would have laughed in your face. A bookstore? Dedicated purely to romance?

But here we are, in 2024, almost one year since Slow Burn Books was just an idea in our heads and almost 10 months since we opened our doors. Now, you are probably wondering, “how did we end up in this situation?” That’s a great question, and sometimes we wonder that ourselves. The short and simple answer is that when Nicola picked up a romance book in November 2021, she discovered a community of book lovers on Tiktok, noticed a trend of specialty romance bookstores popping up all around the world, and got the crazy idea to open one herself. She then convinced her ever-supportive and analytical sister to join in. The rest, as they say, is history.

From conception, Slow Burn Books was anything but slow when it came to building the actual business. We moved quickly once we found the perfect location and opened our doors two months later. The book community, whether they are readers, publishers, authors or distributors, have welcomed us with open arms and helped ease the journey as we built this business in such an accelerated timeline. 

Slow Burn Books' Nicola and Shannon, holding romance novels and sitting in their shop. A neon sign with the shop's name is on the wall behind them.
Slow Burn Books’ Shannon and Nicola in their shop. Photo by Nora Hanako.

ALU: You have such an engaged community across your various social channels – I saw a comment from someone pledging to visit the store from as far as Red Deer to shop! (For non-AB readers, this is a three-hour round trip!) How does social media factor into building community and hype for what you do?

SBB: Social media has been instrumental in building our community and putting our business on the map. We can honestly say we would not be where we are today without it.

What’s unique about the community of book lovers on social media is the overwhelming amount of support people showed us when we announced the opening of our romance bookstore. While this may not be the case in every industry, we were able to tap into a very unique and active subculture of passionate users on platforms such as Tiktok and Instagram. We were fortunate enough that on only our second post on Tiktok, we had a video go viral. As someone who worked in the marketing industry prior to this, I knew that going viral is not a common occurrence. We are so thankful that we were able to have that initial reaction, which has truly set us up for everything that came after.

ALU: Romance traditionally has had some negative (a.k.a. snobby) associations made against it – so let’s bust through those stereotypes! Tell us what’s so exciting about the romance genre right now?

SBB: We honestly think romance is having a renaissance. From the 20th century and into the 21st, romance has had more than its fair share of stigma and negative connotations, but from what we are seeing nowadays, more and more people are approaching this genre with open minds. There are so many incredible books coming out with stories that need to be told. On top of reading romance for the happily ever after, there is also an undercurrent of readers searching for representation in these books, and there definitely has been an increase in stories that encompass inclusivity, where it had been lacking before. That, coupled with the rise of self-publishing, means a staggering number of books are being released each month and they encompass a very broad range of stories. Chances are, if you’re looking for a certain type of book, it’s already being written. Or, if you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for, take a leap and write it yourself!

ALU: Slow Burn hosts all kinds of events at your shop: from writing workshops to wine-and-cheese nights. Did any particular event stand out, recently, that you’d like to share with us?

SBB: The reception of our bookish events has absolutely blown us away. Most recently we hosted a midnight release party for House of Flame and Shadows by Sarah J. Maas. This is the second event of this type we have done and it was an absolute success! We planned activities to keep the night fun and entertaining, from HOFAS trivia, to painting and bingo. If we can continue to stay awake past midnight, then we definitely can see ourselves doing midnight release parties again in the future!

ALU: Do you have any Valentine’s romance recommendations to close out this month?

SBB: We are really excited about local Calgary author Luna Day’s debut novel, Three Hearts Hideaway. It is an MFM fast-burn, small-town romance that focuses on exploring new relationship dynamics and going after what makes you happy.

Tropes: insta-love, fast-burn, why-choose, small town romance

[ALU note: If you’re new to romance and need some help deciphering romance terms, Slow Burn has a helpful glossary on their website!]