"I still enjoy being on a book cover, but the passion isn't there. If you don't have a passion for something you're pursuing, then it won't feel right. If it doesn't feel right, it won't look right," Jason Baca tells PEOPLE
After appearing on more than 630 book covers, longtime romance novel model Jason Baca is retiring from the genre.
“As of today, I’ve appeared on 635 book covers with a few more coming down the pipes from previous shoots,” Baca, 45, tells PEOPLE exclusively.
Despite the successful modeling career that he’s established, Baca says that he’s now taking a step back because “the passion isn’t there.”
“I’m one of those types that either you go about what you want in life wholeheartedly or not at all! My desire in the beginning was there. Someone could say something negative to me about it and it would bounce right off of me with no effect,” he says. “I knew what I wanted, being on covers was the object of my desire.”
After years of “being on book cover after book cover,” he says “the thrill of achievement with it all diminished.”
“I still enjoy being on a book cover, but the passion isn’t there. If you don’t have a passion for something you’re pursuing, then it won’t feel right. If it doesn’t feel right, it won’t look right,” he says. “So sadly, I’m going to hang it up.”
There’s one job, though, that he wouldn’t turn turn down if he got the call.
“I mean, unless I get a call from my agent saying Jennifer Aniston wants to do a romance book cover with you, I’m done,” says Baca.
Born in Los Gatos, California, Baca began working as an actor before he dipped into the modeling world.
“I was a double in the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer. One of the photographers from the location asked if he could take some sample photos for his camera. I said sure. From there, he passed on my info to another photographer that wanted to shoot me. He was a high-end photographer. From there, he used me for several fashion style shoots,” says Baca.
“I was a terrible actor. I tried to audition for a roll in something and when I stood before the casting directors I completely froze up. I tried to do it without a script since I studied it the night before and thought I got this. But the problem was either I’d say my lines smooth but not act. Or, I’d act, but not speak my lines. Yeah, it was a mess. Glad this came along.”
One decade after beginning his work as a model, Baca “was preparing to be done with modeling” when he says he “stumbled upon romance novels” — and from there, paved his own path into the genre.
“I’d seen a cover of a guy that looked and appeared to be my age. I was instantly enthralled. I originally pursued it on my own without the help of my agency. I contacted a ton of authors and asked how to go about it. One got back saying she had a book she wanted me to be on the cover of,” he shares. “It turned out to be my very first big break in the romance novel cover model world.”
But the modeling seed was planted years before the cover star entered the entertainment industry.
“I remember back in high school, I was over at my buddy’s house watching the game on TV and a commercial came on for Entertainment Tonight. For the first time in my life, I saw Fabio. I’ll never forget it. I remembered they showed him walking through the room with all the women and they just looked at him in complete awe,” he recalls.
“I remembered looking at the clip in total amazement then saying to my friend ‘Who is this guy?’ He was like, “Man, you don’t know yet? That’s Fabio! That romance book guy!’ I told my buddy, ‘You know Rich, I’m going to be on those book covers just like him if my baseball career doesn’t happen.’ We both laughed. He was laughing because he thought I was joking. I was laughing because I really meant it!” saysBaca.
Although Baca, who resides with his wife in Saratoga, California, is retiring from modeling, he’ll continue to maintain a fit physique while working his day job.
“I believe in taking care of myself and will maintain a good diet and exercise plan. I will continue to go to the spa and take care of my skin. I do work a regular 8-5 job and I have since all this began. I knew eventually modeling would come to an end and when a career for a model is over, the industry just moves on to the next best thing. It won’t feel sorry for you and keep hiring you back either. There is always something bigger, better for the business and that’s what’s so great about modeling — it’s for a limited time only or while supplies last!” he says.
Adds Baca, “Having the office job allowed me to fill up that free time when I was in between shoots and now it’ll fill in that time like before. Working the 8-5 job has kept me grounded — keeps me from getting my head above the clouds from all the covers. Being humble is the name of the game for me, so I’ll keep that job and fit in with society for a while here.”
Reflecting on his years of modeling, Baca can’t pinpoint a favorite cover — but he does have a special place in his heart for his very first shoot.
“I loved each and every book cover shoot I ever did as the passion stayed with me for many years here. The one I dreamed about the most though was that very first one: The Legend of Michael by Lisa Renee Jones [in 2011],” he remembers. “It was so sweet getting to actually see that cover at the bookstore after all the meditating I did on it beforehand. Then when I actually walked into the store and saw me on that cover for the very first time on display I was like, ‘Hey. I know you. Yeah, you’re that romance cover model. You’re gonna be on a lot of these books here going forward, you just wait!’ I gave myself a smirk and put the book back up on the shelf.”
And while Baca has established himself as one of the most famous romance novel models in the history of the genre (he says the turning point for his romance book covers came in 2008), there’s another famous face he believes surpasses him and all others: Fabio.
“Hey Fabio, you win the award for best actor-model in my book!” Baca says about Fabio, who turns 60 next week. “Congrats on all the wonderful achievements that have inspired so many of us. I know I for one you certainly motivated.”