Even before Dina Santorelli published BABY GRAND, she was already an accomplished writer and editor. Last year, she published her debut novel, BABY GRAND, a fast-paced thriller, beautifully written with strong characters and surprising twists. (Yes, I’ve had the pleasure of reading the book and loved it.) I’m truly amazed at how she accomplishes so much with her busy schedule!
I recently had the chance to interview Dina and learn a little more about her writing, her books, and just exactly how she does it all! Thanks, Dina, for appearing here today.
First off, I know that you are the executive editor for two magazines and have three children. How and when do you have time to write books?
I’m actually a firm believer in finding time—not only to write, but to do anything it is you want to do. There are so many things pulling on us throughout the day, and it’s very easy to simply say, “I just don’t have time.” But I don’t believe in “not having time.” I think people don’t realize how much time there really is in a day to do all the things we want. That said, if my days are truly packed with stuff, of course something has to give. And, for me, that’s usually sleep. Instead of sacrificing time with my kids, I’ll sacrifice sleep instead, so I tend to write in the middle of the night. I set my alarm for 2 or 3 a.m. and I get up and write for a few hours. It’s nice and quiet. In the middle of the night, there is nothing else to do, no food shopping errands, no kids to tend to—it’s just my computer and me. Oh, and by the way, I was going to say that I also sacrifice housework to write, but I think my house would be a mess anyway.
When you first took the plunge into freelance writing 15 years ago, how hard was it to get started?
When I first started freelancing, it was for the trades, because that is where I had come from—I had spent five years working as an editor for a group of home furnishings magazines. At the time, I just had my first child, and I was doing freelance writing mostly for my editors there. However, I wanted to branch out into the consumer press (newsstand magazines, etc.)—and that was hard. Mainly because I found that those magazine editors—and I’m not sure if this is true anymore—would only hire writers versed in whatever fields they covered. For example, parenting editors wanted to hire writers who wrote about parenting, which makes sense, I guess, but at the same time, I think they were closed to the idea that journalists are trained researchers and can really write about all kinds of things. It’s all about the research.
I was determined to become a general-assignment freelancer, so I decided to start small. In addition to my trade work, I began writing for tiny, unheard of magazines and websites—freebies at the supermarket, niche websites. I got paid pennies a word, if that. But I was able to write about anything I wanted—those small publications are clamoring for writers. So I wrote about parenting for small magazines and some websites, I wrote about travel, I wrote about throwing parties, and gradually I developed a portfolio and experience, and over time I was able to work my way into the larger publications.
Do you think it was easier then or is it easier now?
That is a really good question. In some ways, I think it’s easier for writers to break into new markets now, because of the internet and social media, and there’s so much crossover nowadays and myriad ways to make connections and meet people. But, at the same time, the publishing industry is undergoing such change, and there are so many writers out of work who are freelancing full-time that the competition is fierce. I was looking at a job post at a publishing company yesterday, and more than 100 writers had applied. That’s tough.
How different do you find the writing process for freelancing versus writing fiction?
I differ with some of my writer-friends on this, but I find the writing to be incredibly similar. Perhaps it’s just my style as a fiction writer, but my fiction eye is really no different than my nonfiction eye in terms of attention to detail, setting a scene, writing dialogue. As a journalist, I learned how to watch people, take notice of surroundings. I transcribed what has to be hundreds and hundreds of interviews over the years, and have gotten a feel for the way people talk. Those are skills I use in my fiction all the time. Obviously, fiction writing is about things that are not real, but other than that, there’s a lot of truth in what I’m writing as a novelist, truth I’ve incorporated into the characters and places I’ve imagined. That, along with the mechanics of how I write, come from my many years as a journalist.
I see you are also available to edit. Is this something you’d like to do more?
I absolutely love editing. It uses a different part of my brain—I know that because I usually edit with music on in the background, and I must write in complete silence (my own little science experiment). I started my career as an editor, and I’ve been the editor of two magazines on a freelance basis for about seven years, so I have tons of experience editing others’ work, which helps me to edit my own work. Recently, I’ve begun working with fiction writers to help them fine-tune their manuscripts. I’ve been told by both nonfiction and fiction writers that I have “a good eye”—which is nice to hear—and, again, I think that comes from years of journalism, getting to the heart of a story, having to whittle a piece down from 1,000 to 200 words by, say, Tuesday or by five o’clock (those daily deadlines were killer, but taught me a lot). It’s a skill that develops over time. So, yes, I’m always in the market for new editing opportunities. It’s an opportunity to keep honing my skills, and plus I love collaborating with other writers—I find I learn something new each time.
Now that BABY GRAND has been out for a brief time, how do you feel about your decision to self-publish rather than waiting for your agent to find the right publisher?
I was lucky enough to secure representation for Baby Grand when it was only a partial manuscript. So in the beginning I went through the traditional publishing process—working with my agent to make edits, pitch editors, etc. I found early on that I was very frustrated by the pace of traditional publishing. There was lots of waiting. And waiting. We only pitched, like, 10 editors, but waiting to hear back—for me—was excruciating. I knew there would be rejection—my years as a freelance writer pitching magazine editors told me that. Rejection is just part of publishing, so when the rejections started coming in, I wasn’t surprised, but I was surprised by the kinds of rejections there were. Some of the comments had nothing to do with the book (obviously, some did), and had to do with the industry and the difficulty in marketing thrillers.
I sat down with my agent for lunch one day in January 2012 and began discussing where to go from here. I had been blogging for a while at that point and had seen the growth of self-publishing and eBooks, and I knew that, although there was still a stigma associated with self-publishing, there was good stuff out there being self-published. Quality writing. Quality covers and packaging.
I had to think about what was important to me. Did I need to have the backing of a traditional publisher? I used to think so, but I wasn’t so sure anymore. The industry had truly changed—and keeps changing—and as a journalist, I know my way around a press release and marketing. Plus, I was confident in my product. I knew that thrillers, as a genre, were a popular read and were suitable (like romance novels) for self-publishing. And I wanted my book to be published in the summer. That summer. So I told my agent that I wanted to self-publish. I said, “I think I can do this.” Because I really thought I could.
For weeks, I worked with the custom publishing division of Stonesong (which previously had been my literary agency) to create a killer book cover, which I knew was important, and to do the eBook formatting and print-on-demand paperback.
On May 23, 2012, the eBook of Baby Grand was published on Amazon Kindle, and since that first day I have been overwhelmed with the warm reception it’s gotten from readers. Truly, truly overwhelmed—I spent much of that first day crying “happy tears,” as my husband calls them. People seemed to like the story, which, I felt, validated my decision to self-publish. Later in the year, I made the book available on other eReader platforms and as a print-on-demand paperback. An audiobook is in the works as well. The book is now a Top Rated Mystery & Thriller on Amazon Kindle and based on Baby Grand’s success, I was voted the second best author on Long Island this year, right behind Nelson DeMille. It’s been very, very exciting!
So, yes, I truly believe self-publishing was the right decision for this book. Marketing, of course, is a killer—since its publication date, I’ve been marketing Baby Grand 24/7. But, truthfully, my traditionally published friends are right there with me marketing their hearts out. Nowadays, marketing falls on the shoulders of the author, whether self-published or traditionally published, so none of us are sleeping.
Your second novel is a sequel to BABY GRAND and slated for a summer 2014 release. How is that going?
My second novel is actually a stand-alone novel titled, In the Red. I didn’t know that Baby Grand was going to be a series at first, and I had wanted to write another thriller that also incorporated a love story within it. I’d had the idea for years, pretty much as long as I had the idea for Baby Grand. So I’m finishing that first and then, as you mentioned, will be working on a sequel to Baby Grand for 2014. How’s it going? Hmmm… I wrote this on my blog recently, but it seems I had forgotten how hard it was to write a novel! I’m struggling, and full of self-doubt, and avoiding by doing laundry, you know, the usual. But it’s all good. I just have to sit myself down and do it. I’m in the revision stage right now for In the Red and I have tons of notes ready for when I get going on Baby Grand’s sequel. As I tell myself: This thing isn’t going to write itself, so get a move on!
Will your next novel be self-published?
It very well might be. I’m open to all avenues. I do have a literary agent waiting for a “first look,” as they say, at In the Red, so I’m not sure. But, yes, I’m definitely open to self-publishing as a publishing option.
If you had any advice for other aspiring writers, what would it be?
Gosh, I’m asked this a lot, and I probably give a different answer every time. LOL! But the thing that comes to mind now is simply this: Believe in yourself. There’s going to be a lot of rejection along the way—by agents and editors, and by that nagging little voice inside of you that keeps telling you that you’re not good enough. My advice is not to ignore everyone—agents and editors have lots of experience and offer excellent guidance—but simply to listen closely and think about the things they are saying. Do you think they have a point? Is there something you can make better? Deepen? Make come alive? Or do you truly disagree—that’s totally valid. You know your story, and you have instincts as an author. Be true to those gut feelings too. And as for that nagging little self-doubt voice in your head? Yes, totally ignore that one. You are good enough. Case closed.
Voted one of the Best Long Island Authors for 2013 (Long Island Press), Dina Santorelli has been a freelance writer for over 15 years and has written for Newsday, First for Women and CNNMoney.com, among other publications. Her debut novel, Baby Grand, is a Top Rated Mystery & Thriller on Amazon Kindle. Among her nonfiction work, Dina served as the “with” writer for the well-received Good Girls Don’t Get Fat and most recently contributed to Bully, the companion book to the acclaimed documentary. Dina is also the Executive Editor of Salute and Family magazines for which she has interviewed many celebrities, including James Gandolfini, Tim McGraw, Angela Bassett, Mario Lopez, Gary Sinise and Kevin Bacon. Dina blogs about the writing life at http://makingbabygrand.com. and will teach a publishing course this summer for Hofstra University’s Continuing Education department. For more information about Dina, visit her website at http://dinasantorelli.com.
About Baby Grand
A compelling, fast-moving contemporary thriller: In Albany, New York, the governor’s infant daughter disappears without a trace from her crib at the Executive Mansion. Hours later, newly divorced and down-and-out writer Jamie Carter is abducted from the streets of Manhattan. Jamie is whisked upstate, where she is forced by her captor, Don Bailino, a handsome, charismatic ex-war hero/successful businessman, to care for the kidnapped child in a plot to delay the execution of mobster Gino Cataldi—the sixth man to be put to death in six years by hardliner Governor Phillip Grand. What prevails is a modern-day thriller about family ties, loyalty, murder, betrayal, and love that’s told in deftly interweaving narratives that follow the police investigation of the missing Baby Grand, the bad guys who took her, and the woman who must find the strength to protect her.