With a client list that includes Newsday, CNNMoney.com and Salute, Dina Santorelli has enjoyed a thriving career as a freelance writer for over 15 years. In between assignments, she recently realized a childhood dream with the publication of her first novel, “Baby Grand,” a top-rated Amazon.com thriller which deftly serves up all the right ingredients for murder and mayhem. Santorelli is as passionate about creating cracking good thrillers as she is about managing all aspects of her new career as a novelist—which is why she choose to self-publish her book. She blogs about the highs and lows of a writer’s life at Making Baby Grand.com and is hard at work on her second thriller, “In the Red.”
Karen Jones: What were some of the challenges and rewards in writing “Baby Grand?”
Dina Santorelli: Writing a novel was something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. And over the years, I’d started a bunch of novels, but for one reason or another I didn’t see them through. Finally, when I was in my thirties, with a house full of kids and a successful freelance writing career, I decided that this fiction thing I had planned on doing “one day” had to happen today. I sat down and wrote 1,000 words a day, every day, for seven weeks and finished the first draft of “Baby Grand” in August 2010. I was filled with self-doubt every one of those days thinking, can I really do this? Is anyone going to care?—but I persevered. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done.
KJ: What would you like readers to learn from it?
DS: The only thing I’d like readers to get from “Baby Grand” is an enjoyable and entertaining reading experience. That’s basically what I think a good thriller novel should be—entertaining. Though-provoking? Sure, sometimes. Moving? On occasion. But entertaining? It should be entertaining all the time. I want people to want to pick up my book, to miss their subway stop because they can’t stop reading and not be able to put it down. I want them to read the last page of “Baby Grand,” close the book and think to themselves, “Now, THAT was a good story.”
KJ: Who are your inspirations in the thriller genre and why do we like thrillers so much?
DS: I like smart thrillers—ones that have suspense and fast pacing, for sure, but especially those with characters that are well- developed and relatable. In my twenties, when I was commuting into Manhattan from Queens every day, I used to read lots of Michael Crichton, John Grisham and James Patterson while taking public transportation–as if riding the subway wasn’t thrilling enough! Recently, I just finished “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series by Stieg Larsson, and I loved them. Larsson created such smart, three-dimensional, memorable characters in Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, and I adore their relationship just as much as I enjoy the fast-paced action.
Why do people love thrillers so much? I would think it’s the excitement, the roller coaster ride of a story, the twists and turns. Thrillers let us experience what it’s like being in harm’s way without really being in harm’s way, to try and put together pieces of an elaborate puzzle without having anything at stake, to feel excitement and thrills with no risk other than falling off the couch in surprise.
KJ: Why did you decide to self-publish “Baby Grand?”
DS: Originally, I was going to take the traditionally published route for “Baby Grand”. I had secured a literary agent and we ended up sending the finished novel out to about 10 editors before I decided I wanted to self-publish which I did for several reasons. Self-publishing was exploding, and I saw smart and professional-looking self-published books hitting the market.
I tend to be a self-starter, and I like the control that authors have as self-publishers, making decisions on everything from the price of their books to formatting, book covers and marketing. However marketing is tough, whether you traditionally publish or self-publish. There are so many books out there, and you’ve got to find a way to get your little book discovered. I find it ironic that so many people believe that self-publishing a book is taking “the easy way out.” I’m here to tell you that it’s damn hard. In order to do it right, you really need to educate yourself about the industry and treat your book like a business, which means you need to invest in your product.
KJ: Any advice for aspiring writers?
DS: You’ve got to believe in yourself and your vision. When people read your book, you’re going to be bombarded with all kinds of suggestions. Some people will love your villain; others won’t understand him. Some people will think your book’s opening pages are slow; others will tell you those pages sucked them right in. Writers should always keep their eyes and ears open, because they might get some very good advice, but in the end, you are the author, it’s your book, and you should always go with what’s in your heart. Mine hasn’t steered me wrong yet.