Meet Dina Santorelli
Dina Santorelli is an award-winning, best-selling author of thriller and suspense novels. She was voted one of the best Long Island authors for two consecutive years. Baby Grand, her debut novel and the first book in the Baby Grand Trilogy, became a #1 Political Thriller, #1 Kidnapping Thriller, and #1 Organized Crime Thriller on Amazon Kindle, and reached the Top 30 on Kindle.
Dina’s latest novel, a mystery thriller titled In the Red, was awarded first place in the genre fiction category in the 28th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Dina also lectures for Hofstra University’s Continuing Education Department, and she is an Indie Author Project Ambassador for the Library Journal and an Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
What inspired you to become an author?
I’ve always wanted to tell stories. (I’ve found short stories written by me at about 8 years old on construction paper!) But as a young person, I wasn’t confident in my writing. I wanted to write novels, but didn’t think I was ready. I joined my high school newspaper and fell in love with journalism. Journalistic writing suited me: short, direct sentences that got to the point and told the who, what, where, when, why, and how. I became a journalist and over the course of my career became a more confident writer. In my thirties, I was ready to start writing those novels that I had been thinking about. I went to grad school to study English/creative writing and published my first novel in 2012.
What motivated you to write your first novel and how long was the process from idea to publication?
I came up with the idea for BABY GRAND in my twenties when I was busy traveling, starting a family, and growing a career. In my last semester of grad school, I started writing it as my master’s project and finished it about a year later. So it took me about a year and a half to write, but from idea to publication was about 15 years!
How many drafts did you write before publishing your first novel?
My process of writing is constant editing, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many drafts I go through before the final draft. The number is probably in the hundreds.
Can you give us a brief synopsis of Baby Grand?
A curly-haired toddler.
A down-on-her-luck writer.
And the bad guys who brought them together.
New York Governor Phillip Grand’s infant daughter disappears without a trace from her crib. Hours later, newly divorced and out-of-work writer Jamie Carter is abducted by a dark, handsome stranger in a crowded New York City park. Jamie is whisked upstate, where she is forced to care for the kidnapped, Baby Grand, in a plot to delay the execution of mobster Gino Cataldi.
Alone and on her own for the first time in her life, Jamie must figure out a way to escape. But with this sweet child’s safety on the line—and in her hands—can she find a way to outwit her captors before they kill them both?
There are three books in the Baby Grand series. Did you know when you wrote the first novel it would be one of three?
No, I didn’t! I thought BABY GRAND was going to be a standalone novel, but when I was writing the end of the novel, I realized the story needed to go on. I could see the future plot in my head. That’s when I decided to write the sequel, BABY BAILINO, and then the same thing happened as I was finishing BABY BAILINO—I knew the series needed to be a trilogy, and I wrote BABY CARTER. And then, at that point, I had these visions of the series going on and on, kind of like the Jack Reacher series, but I made the decision to end the series at three. I thought that was the right decision for the story.
Please tell us about, Baby Bailino and Baby Carter, the other two books in the Baby Grand Trilogy.
It’s hard to discuss Books 2 and 3 in the Baby Grand Trilogy without divulging some important plot points in BABY GRAND, and I really don’t like spoilers! 😊 Suffice it to say that there are more mob guys (and gals!), more murder and mayhem, and the reader learns more about the characters in BABY GRAND who undergo lots of change throughout the series. In some ways, they are not the same people at the end that they were at the beginning, but in some ways they are. (How’s THAT for vague? 😊)
Have you ever experienced writer’s block and if so, how did you overcome it?
I experience writer’s block probably every day. How I get through it depends on the day. Some days, I simply talk myself through it. Other days, I barrel through it. And still other days, I have to get up and do something else—go for a walk, eat lunch, take a shower, play with my dog. Writing a novel takes months, often years, and there is bound to be writer’s block along the way. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you, specifically, need to do to get through it.
Many aspiring authors are torn between whether to seek representation from a traditional publisher or self-publish. Please tell us why you chose to self-publish. Did you hire a company? What benefits have you enjoyed because of that decision?
I began my career with an agent for BABY GRAND (I also work in nonfiction and showed the first third of the novel to a colleague of mine, and she agreed to represent the book). We submitted the book to a handful of editors, and I expected to get rejections, since that’s part of the business, and I did, but I was confused by the rejections I was getting. Some rejections had nothing to do with the book; they had to do with thrillers the editor already had on her “list” or the idea that mob thrillers were passé. One editor said my writing was strong, but my storytelling wasn’t. Another editor said the opposite. Another editor couldn’t decide whether she was supposed to like my villain or not, which, frankly, was the point of the book! 😊
At the time, early 2012, self-publishing was growing and becoming more than just vanity publishing, and self-published authors were finding audiences and doing well. I decided to part ways with my agent and give self-publishing a try, knowing it would take a lot of work. You have to view self-publishing like running a business. It needs your attention every day. I’ve worked hard at it, and in ten years I’ve been able to find success—along the way. My books have been bestsellers on Amazon Kindle and have won awards in writing competitions.
I like the creative control I have in self-publishing—I decide on the publication date, the title, the book summary, and the book cover of my books. I set the pricing, secure the blurbs, choose the promotions. I didn’t hire any companies to help me—I do everything myself. I don’t mean that I design my own book covers, but I hire the people to do those things—kind of like a general contractor. It’s easier to do that now, as opposed to ten years ago, because an entire industry has developed to support self-published authors. (Believe it or not, as I recently told a coaching client, for that reason it is CHEAPER to self-publish today than it was 10 years ago!)
I am a proud indie author and have learned so much over the years. All that said, for my next novel, which is a sci-fi/dystopian thriller titled THE REFORMED MAN, I’ve decided to pitch agents again, just to see what kind of responses I get, but I’m more than ready to self-publish again. I’ve already had the cover designed!
Is the self-publishing route easy to navigate? Please share some tips for those aspiring authors who wish to take that road.
In some ways, it’s easy. In some ways, it’s not. It’s easy in that you can just open a free account on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), upload your manuscript, press a button, and voila! You’re a published author. Technically, it’s not hard. But if you want to sell books—I mean, REALLY sell books—you need to work at it. Read books about publishing, follow industry experts on social media, read their newsletters and blogs. Be open to trying new things. Experiment with advertising and promotions. All those things can help you find success. But, most importantly—and I say this to my writing clients—write the very best book you can. That’s the best marketing tool you have. Your book.
Did you seek out Beta readers before publishing? If so, did you find that helpful?
Interestingly, I hadn’t used a beta reader until I wrote my last novel, IN THE RED, which is a mystery thriller. Because it was my first mystery, I needed to be sure that readers couldn’t figure out “who did it” until I wanted them to, so I sent the book to two beta readers to help me gauge whether or not the story worked. That was helpful. (I should also note that my oldest son serves as my “first reader” for all my books—he reads all my books first and provides honest criticism.)
Congratulations on your latest novel, a mystery thriller, titled, In the Red. Can you share a brief synopsis?
Thank you! IN THE RED won First Place, Genre Fiction, in the Writer's Digest self-published book awards, which was such a thrill! Here’s the synopsis:
When Kirk Stryker, a respected certified public accountant, is brutally murdered in his office in the Long Island village of Gardenia, all eyes are on rival Marty Benning, the handsome newcomer whose high-tech firm has been stealing Stryker’s business and attention.
Muriel Adams, a middle-aged mom who has given up on love, falls head over heels for the charming yet enigmatic Benning, despite the warnings of friends and family, and when Benning is arrested for Stryker’s murder, she is the only one to believe in his innocence.
Is Muriel blinded by love? Or is Benning playing her for a fool? IN THE RED is an emotionally charged contemporary thriller that follows the police investigation, media coverage, and political and economic fallout surrounding this high-profile crime, and, ultimately, uncovers a dark underbelly that reveals the dangerous places the heart can lead.
Which of your novels was the easiest to write? Which one was difficult?
Honestly, none of them were easy. 😊 Writing a novel is hard, but if I had to pick, I’d say writing BABY GRAND was the most difficult, only because I hadn’t written a novel before. I didn’t have any track record. The easiest? Hmmm… Maybe BABY CARTER, the third book in the Baby Grand Trilogy, only because at that point I knew the characters like the back of my hand. Still, that novel was challenging because I knew second and third and fourth books in a series are often disappointments, and I wanted BABY CARTER to be as exciting and well-written as the others, so that added a lovely layer of stress. 😊
You are an Indie Author Project Ambassador for the Library Journal and an Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Please tell us about these organizations.
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is a godsend! I’ve learned so much from the knowledgeable authors who are a part of it. ALLi is the premier membership association for self-publishing authors. Its mission is ethics and excellence in self-publishing. Whenever I want to know something about self-publishing—whether it’s “Should I rebrand my series?” or “Should I make the first book in my series perma-free?” (the answer to both questions turned out to be yes!)—I go to ALLi’s Facebook page and find out everything I need to know.
The Indie Author Project (IAP) started out as a partnership with Library Journal on the SELF-e program and turned into a publishing community that includes multiple curation partners (including Library Journal), all built to help libraries find the best indie books and share them with their patrons.
What is your best advice for aspiring authors?
My best advice for aspiring authors is simply to sit down and write. There is no one, except YOU, who can tell your story. And that story deserves to be heard. It is an amazing time to be an author right now. There are so many ways to bring a story or book to market. I tell authors all the time that it only takes one person to take a chance on you to make it in this business, and that person is YOU. If YOU can believe and commit to working hard and learning your craft, anything is possible.
To learn more about Dina or to purchase her books, visit: