Farrah Rochon
Credit: Tamara Roybiskie

Farrah Rochon is a self-confessed trope-aholic.

But that should come as music to any romance reader's ears, considering how masterfully she plays with them. Her next novel, The Dating Playbook, trades on the beloved "fake dating" trope with a twist. "In other books mostly, it's like they come together and decide, 'Okay, let's do this,'" Rochon tells EW. "But that's not how it happens in this. It's a little different. It's all because of Taylor with her big mouth. Her personality gets her in trouble."

Taylor is the book's heroine, a personal trainer trying to level up by conquering the world of Instagram fitness culture. She thinks she might find the answer to her prayers in Jamar Dixon, a former pro football player who is eager to return to the NFL and convinced Taylor can help him get there. But he has one caveat: No one can know she's training him. Which is why, when they're spotted together by a journalist, Taylor blurts out that Jamar is her boyfriend. Will the lie prove to be her downfall, or lead her to the love of her life?

The Dating Playbook is the second installment in Rochon's new series, following 2020's The Boyfriend Project. It doesn't hit shelves until Aug. 17, but EW has an exclusive first look at the Dating Playbook cover below, along with more from Rochon on her writing process, why she's excited to feature a heroine with braids on her cover, and more.

The Dating Playbook
Credit: Forever / Elizabeth Turner Stoke

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is the second in this series featuring this group of friends. When you're outlining or envisioning a series like this, how do you decide what order you're going to tell their stories in?

FARRAH ROCHON: It happens organically for me, especially with this series. Because the girls' personalities are so different. It's the ones whose personality came forward first. Samiah [of The Boyfriend Project] I just knew would be first. This doesn't seem fair to Taylor, but London also has this really strong personality, so I thought it would be a good bookend to have her end it. Taylor fell in the middle because the other two had such strong personalities. But that's how she started. She actually surprised me while I wrote her book; she has a lot of oomph to her. That was a really great thing as an author to find. It's one of those things where I just have a feel for which story and character is really jumping forward.

Taylor is a personal trainer with a lot of know-how about the fitness community on Instagram. How did you choose that profession, and what type of research did you have to do there?

It went with her bubbly personality type. I did have to do a bit of research. I now follow a bunch of fitnessgram people, one of those subcultures on Instagram. Instagram has all of these little worlds that if you're not into you'd have no idea, but fitnessgram is huge. Taylor wanted to be a part of that, so I did a lot of research on the whole fitness thing and how people have been able to carve out this career for themselves through YouTube and Instagram. Some of them have just, like, huge followings. It was very interesting just to see how people have been able to use social media to do those things for themselves. Those are the people who inspire Taylor in the book, and that's who inspired me to to write her. Everybody has their things that they absolutely love, and you can probably find your community on Instagram. But Taylor just wants to take the whole fitness world by storm. She has ADHD. She's always had all of this extra energy; her family didn't really know what to do with it. They thought it was just Taylor being her overtly bubbly self. It really does play a part in who she is as a person.

Jamar wants to return to the NFL. You've done a whole series set in the world of pro football, so was there something in particular you were itching to get back to?

I'm always into football and sports. I'm a big sports fan, but football does come most naturally to me. I come from a football family. Research is readily available to me because I just have to call my uncle, who's been an NFL coach for 30 years. I liked the idea of wanting to try to get back into the league and needing a fitness consultant that people wouldn't necessarily think to go to. With her wanting to get someone who's popular and gonna put her on the map and then he's like, "No you can't tell anybody. I don't want anyone to know that I'm training." It was one of those classic conflicts that an author is looking for where the one thing she needs from him is the one thing that he will not allow her to have. Plus it's set in Austin, a huge football town.

This cover is so delectable. Did you have a lot of input or specific asks?

I gave them pictures of people because that worked so well with The Boyfriend Project that I immediately set up the Pinterest board. I had two people that embody the two characters. It wasn't a lot of back-and-forth with this one, because the artists got it right almost immediately. They sent me the initial sketch, and I just thought, "Holy crap! She has braids in her hair; I'm in. That is exactly what I want."

I was going to ask if that was something you requested, because it's sadly something we don't see often on romance covers. Did you have to have a lot of conversations about that?

It was one of those things where I wanted it. Because you don't see it. She goes from braids to not braids to braids again. Black women do this all the time, but you don't see it depicted on book covers at all. It was just one of those things that I really wanted them to include, so I did ask that she has the braids. I sent pictures with the [style I wanted], and I just love it. I love the representation that people will see on this cover.

You mentioned you had specific people you envisioned. Can you share who they are?

The hero is Trevante Rhodes, from Moonlight. You can see the goatee, and he's gorgeous. For Taylor, the girl is a model. And I think she's acted a bit. Her name is Ebonee Davis. She may have been on one of the Top Model shows or something. [Davis was on season 18.] I ran across her picture, and it was actually a picture where she has on braids. She has on a workout outfit, the crop-top sports-bra-type thing and the running pants. It was just one of those pictures where it's like, "Oh my goodness, this is Taylor! She's even dressed like her." So that's Taylor and Jamar.

You've written category romance and many different types of romance stories. What has it been like writing in this rom-com renaissance we're in the midst of?

It's funny because I don't really see myself as a funny writer or a rom-com writer, even though people say things like, "Oh, I laughed so much." I think it's because I just have this dry sense of humor that I don't really think is funny, but other people do. With this series in particular, it was one of those things that came about at the right time. I call it pixie dust. I got a little pixie dust sprinkled on me at the right time because I came up with this series just as the whole illustrated covers were coming back and they were buying up a lot of own-voices books.

If The Boyfriend Project is any indication, you have a knack for balancing the friendship of these three women with the romance. How do you calibrate that?

I am a huge plotter, like ridiculously obsessive plotter. When it comes to this, that's why I call it romantic women's fiction, because so much of the story to me is about the women. The hero in the romance really complements it, but it's about the women and their journeys. Those girlfriends are just such a huge part of that journey. I consider my plotting to be my first draft. That's how much of the book I put together in that stage. I try to see how it would flow naturally as I'm plotting it out. I've had to go back and think, "Oh, the girls haven't really been together. I need to put one of those scenes in." But it also helps that they have this Friday night thing. It's like, "Hey it's a Friday night. What about the girls?" If they can't get together, maybe just a FaceTime or something like that. That's one of those things that I didn't really realize when I was putting it in that it would help me so much just in the pacing of it. Lucky me two years ago, when I came up with the concept of every Friday night they'll get together.

Can you tease the third and final book in the series?

This one is more of an enemies-to-lovers, which is probably my favorite trope. She goes back to her high school reunion, and she ends up hooking up with her high school nemesis, who was also the smartest guy at their school. He was the smartest guy, but he was also the athlete and everyone loved him, but he also had the smarts. She hated him, of course, but they hook up at the high school reunion. And she then discovers that he is over the hedge fund that is trying to take over the hospital that she works at.

Related content: