“BookTok has been a kind of revolution,” Ana Huang says via Zoom from the blurred but evidently pristine living room of her Jersey City home. Before BookTok, she adds, “you never would have seen romance so front and center in bookstores. It was usually shunned into some dusty corner in the back.”

Huang, 32, author of the Kings of Sin series, is a self-proclaimed “romance person.” Even before reading her first Harlequin paperback—at, she says, “probably too young an age, like 10 or 11”—she homed in on the romantic subplots in any movie or television show she watched.

Her favorite thing about the genre? “The comfort of knowing that no matter what happens, there will always be a happily ever after at the end,” she says, her beige sweatshirt contrasting sharply with her dark red lipstick.

In a Huang novel, however, getting to that happy ending is guaranteed to be a tumultuous ride. She made a name for herself writing dark romance, a subgenre marked by brooding, morally dubious heroes; elements of danger, angst, and the taboo; and explicit, often kinky sex. Her latest installment in the Kings of Sin series, King of Sloth (Bloom, Apr.), pairs a laid-back billionaire with his high-strung publicist.

Though Huang has been writing since her childhood in Miami, she didn’t consider going pro until relatively recently. “My mom was like, ‘Um, you need to find something a little more financially stable,’ ” she says, laughing. When the pandemic hit, however, Huang was burning out on her day job as a communications manager and desperate for a creative outlet. She began self-publishing and promoting her books on TikTok, where she now has almost half a million followers. She praises the BookTok community’s championing of indie authors and lauds the platform as a great way to “get a pulse” on what readers want.

This online engagement paid off; her Twisted series became a viral phenomenon and was picked up in print by Sourcebooks’ Bloom imprint in 2022, becoming an instant bestseller. But deciding where to go next was daunting. “Like all writers, I mostly run on caffeine and anxiety,” Huang says. “So yeah, I was definitely nervous about launching a new series on the back of something that had blown up so much.”

Still, any fears about new books not living up to her breakout work appear unfounded. With her bestselling Kings of Sin novels, she’s moved from a world populated by college students to one inhabited by the über-wealthy. The series is relatively high-concept: seven interconnected novels, each starring a different billionaire bachelor who embodies one of the seven deadly sins. The idea sparked, Huang says, when she realized, “Wow, greed, envy, lust—these would all fit perfectly in the world of the ultra-rich.”

The appeal of the billionaire romance subgenre lies partly in its “pure escapism,” Huang says. “As an author, it enables me to go a little bit wild. If I want the characters to have breakfast in Paris tomorrow morning, and they’re in New York today, I can do that.” She calls travel her favorite hobby, and gets some vicarious enjoyment from sending her characters jetting around: “Writing about it feels a bit like I am traveling there myself.”

But beyond luxuriating in the lavish world of the 1%, the books fulfill another fantasy: the idea that, as Huang puts it, speaking for her heroines, “here is this person who already has everything in the world they could possibly want, but they still want me.”

It’s a fantasy she’s gotten a lot of mileage out of in the first three books of the series. But with King of Sloth, Huang’s taking on a sin that has significantly less edge and sex appeal. “Sloth and gluttony,” she says with a self-deprecating shake of her head. “Those were the ones where I was like, how do I make these sexy? Especially sloth. Lazy and unambitious—how do you make those traits hot in a hero? Readers also keep asking, ‘You mean like the animal?’ ”

For Huang, the key to a swoonworthy romance hero is his devotion. The men she writes may be flawed—wrathful or envious or gluttonous—but for her, “it’s not necessarily about their morals or what they do, it’s the way that they treat their love interest,” she says. “I write a lot of morally gray heroes, but they don’t cheat. They don’t even think about other women. Once they decide they’re in, they’re in, and they’re pretty unabashed about it.”

In King of Sloth, the hero is Xavier, a layabout socialite living off his trust fund and resisting both his dying father’s efforts to get him to take over the family company and his workaholic publicist (and love interest) Sloane’s insistence that he clean up his act. The relationship between Xavier and Sloane slots neatly into the grumpy/sunshine dynamic, a perennially popular romance trope in which one half of the main couple is surly and serious while the other half is light and carefree.

“It’s a bit of a reversal for me,” Huang says, “because I write a lot of grumpy/sunshine, but usually it’s a grumpy hero. Here, she’s trying to get him to be more responsible and step up to the plate, and he’s trying to get her to let down her hair and have some fun.”

For Huang, this kind of push and pull is the main draw to any opposites attract dynamic. “There’s an inherent conflict in it,” she says. And that’s what makes it juicy. The challenge for the author is to show the characters growing and changing together without losing the core sense of who they are. “I always want to make sure that they reach a point of balance at the end,” she adds.

While not as angsty as many of her past works, King of Sloth still delves into some heavy themes, including family trauma. In Huang’s mind, the key to making this darker edge work also lies in striking the right balance: “It’s about making sure that I’ve paced out those really heavy moments and lightened them up with some banter or some fun afterward, so that the heaviness isn’t overwhelming.”

It’s a dynamic that still leaves plenty of room for the spice that Huang is known for. Surprisingly, she comes across as a bit shy when discussing sex scenes. “Every time I hit one,” she says, “I put a placeholder and then come back to them in the end, because it’s hard for me to completely switch into sexy mode. I also always have to write them at home. I tried once to write a sex scene in a café and I’m pretty sure I traumatized the woman next to me.”

“Is it spicy?” is a frequent comment posted under TikTok book recommendations and a huge selling point on the app, but Huang is resistant to the idea of spice for spice’s sake. “The more books I write, the more difficult it gets,” she says, “because I’m kind of like, well, how many ways can you do it? Now, when I approach a sex scene, I always ask, okay, why is this here in this specific moment? How is this different from the other sex scenes that have happened between them? How does this further the plot and their relationship?”

Answering these questions while generating genuine on-page chemistry and emotional payoff takes a great degree of skill, and because of BookTok’s mainstream-ification of romance, authors with that skill are finding devoted fans. “There will always be people who are snobby about the type of media they consume,” Huang says, “especially anything that is centered on women and that young woman enjoy. Romance has always been the highest-selling genre, but now there’s this new generation that is so open about it, and they’re just loving and enjoying it. I think that’s pretty amazing.”