Meet Dina Santorelli

Location: Long Island, NY
Age: 45
Marital Status: Married
Education: M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hofstra University

Dina Santorelli says as a writer for 23 years, she’s used to rejection. “I query publications all the time for freelance work, and sometimes it works out and sometimes they pass.” But, nothing prepared her for 2011 which she dubs “the year of rejection.” After submitting her first novel “Baby Grand,” to about ten different publishers, “the rejections started coming in,” says Dina.

Some of those rejections were confusing or downright contradictory. “One would say ‘We find this story compelling, but we don’t think the writing is that great,’ and another would say ‘The writing is stupendous but the story is lukewarm.’” says Dina. “What do you do with that?”

What did she do with that? Fearless Dina took a leap of faith and decided to self publish her thriller. “The statistics are grim,” she says. “More than half of self-published authors sell less than 80 books and make less than $500.” But, Dina moved forward and beat the odds.

Her first novel, “Baby Grand” is an Amazon Kindle top-rated mystery and thriller and the Long Island Press awarded her second place as “Best Long Island Author.”

The book follows Jamie, the protagonist, a freelance writer who is “sort of down on her luck,” and gets involved with the abduction of the governor’s infant daughter. “I like taking ordinary people and putting them in extraordinary situations,” says Dina… Sound familiar?

What is your background?

I’ve been a journalist for about 23 years.

What publications do you write for?

I’ve written for websites, magazine and newspapers, domestically and globally. I was a part of two recent non-fiction books—“Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” and “Bully.” I also worked for Fairchild Publications.

What did you do there?

I was a managing editor of High Points Magazine and then later, editor of Decorative Home magazine. I left shortly after I had my first child and have been freelancing ever since.

How many children do you have?

Three—Griffin, my oldest is 15; Helena, my daughter is 14; Jack, my youngest, will be 11 in May.

What publications do you freelance for?

Newsday, Women’s Health and Fitness, New Magazine… some magazines are no longer in business. I gained my skills working in the home decorating and furnishings market. Then, I became a general assignment freelance writer. I write on topics across the board—from travel to parenting to business.

What is your favorite topic to write about?

Celebrities—I got to interview James Gandolfini, Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon… oh gosh! You have these expectations of what they are going to be like and often, they’re not how you think of them in your head. Although, I interviewed Michael Emerson when “Lost” was the rage. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, he sounds exactly how he does on the show. It’s very creepy!’ Parenting is also close to my heart and the topics of bullying and image is also fascinating to me.

Tell me about “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” and “Bully.”

I did a story on cosmetic surgery for teens for a small online magazine called  Parenting Teens Online. From that one article I got to work on “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat.” I’m passionate about anti-bullying initiatives and confidence in young women. I try to make my own daughter understand it’s about who you are inside as well as the outside.

How did you venture into fiction?

As a child, I would write scary stories. When I was older and commuting into the city—I would go through tons of thrillers from John Grisham to Michael Crichton to James Patterson. I thought, ‘I can do this.’ I’d come up with ideas and start writing and stop. I put my dream of becoming a thriller writer on the back burner for awhile. Then, in my 30s, I decided I really wanted to do it.

How did you make your dream a reality?

I enrolled in the English and Creative Writing graduate program at Hofstra University in 2005 with the sole purpose of writing my first novel. In my last class, a long fiction class, I decided whatever book I started in that class would be my first novel. Baby Grand, which I started in class, actually did end up becoming my first novel.

When did you publish it?

In January 2010 I got an agent based solely on the partial manuscript. I finished the final in 2011. We decided to send it out to about 10 publishers, and then the rejections started coming in.

How did you take the rejections?

I was very confused—some of the rejections had nothing to do with the book, but with the market. Some were contradicting.

What did you do?

In January of last year, I sat my agent down and said, ‘I think I want to go the self-publishing route.’ She was nervous for me but totally supported my decision. My e-book came out in May, a paperback in August, and an audiobook is coming out in a few weeks. As of today, Baby Grand is a top-rated mystery and thriller on Amazon Kindle.

What inspired the story behind your book?

The hero is a person like me, she’s a freelance writer is sort of down on her luck and finds herself in a situation where she has to rise above and isn’t sure if she’s capable of it. I also thought about the scariest things to me—those were something happening to my kids and violence against women. Those two themes are also present in Baby Grand. The infant daughter of the governor of New York disappears and it turns out the child has been abducted as part of a plot to free a mob boss from death row. Jamie, the protagonist gets involved and has to figure out a way to save the child and herself.

What was the biggest challenge of writing the book?

Overcoming that nagging sense of self doubt. Every day I would sit down at my computer and there was that little voice that would say, ‘you can’t do this, you’re not that good of a writer.’ It was just a matter of saying to that voice ‘whatever.’

Tell me about the feedback your book has received.

I won second place for Best Long Island Author from Long Island Press, a weekly newspaper. I was thrilled! There has been a strong reaction to the book. Last year was validation that I made the right decision in self publishing because readers seemed to really like the book.

What are you planning for the future?

I’m currently editing my next novel. My thought is to self publish this as well. Although, I’ve proved myself in the marketplace so there is the possibility I may get a traditional deal. Next year, I plan to write a sequel to Baby Grand. I also continue to freelance.

What advice do you have for other women?

It’s tough out of there, whatever you decide to do. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Don’t let anything stop you from what you really want.