You know how everybody keeps telling you to keep sending out those queries in spite of all the rejection? How it pays to persevere? And the only way to fail is to give up trying?

Now I have proof they’re right. You’re never too old for success.

My nearly 89-year-old mother, Shirley S. Allen, had her first mystery novel, Academic Body, published this week by Mainly Murder Press.

MMP is a small, independent press that specializes in traditional mysteries set in New England. I first heard about them through my Sisters in Crime newsletter. (Thanks, Sue McGinty of Central Coast Sisters!)

I passed the information on to my mom, who had been working on a cozy set in a New England college town. After she finished her final draft last September, she got herself a website (required, according to MMP guidelines) and sent off her query. Within weeks the enthusiastic editors asked for the full manuscript, and by mid-November they sent a contract. They asked for a few edits, but nothing major, and even allowed author input on the cover (and a few suggestions from pushy offspring.)

On March 15th the book was officially launched. That’s a little more than six months from query to publication. Try that with a big-name press!

My mom started writing Academic Body over thirty years ago, when she was teaching English at the University of Connecticut. When she retired from full-time teaching, she polished the book with the help of a critique group, then started attending writers’ conferences, querying agents and entering contests. She placed in several contests, including Minotaur’s Malice Domestic but finally got discouraged after endless agent rejections.

But last year my sister and I urged her to give her book another chance. After several attempts to update it to the technological era, she decided instead to set it back in time to the 1960s. Since anything set fifty years or more in the past is officially “historical,” I pointed out she would have a historical mystery—a popular genre, and one MMP was looking for. She threw herself into the revisions, and had the manuscript ready when the submissions window opened (MMP only accepts submissions three months out of the year.)

So if you’re getting discouraged by rejections that say, “I love this, but where are the zombies?” or “Beautifully written, but it won’t appeal to the 18-30 year old demographic,” or “What, you couldn’t put in a couple of vampires? Or even a small troll?” you might consider a small press instead of the agent/big publisher route.

Of course, small publishers like Mainly Murder don’t usually pay advances. But they DO pay royalties—often a higher percentage than big publishers. They expect you to do most of your own promotion, but so do big publishers these days. And there are advantages like the ones my mom found: speedy publication, more creative input, and friendly communication in all aspects of the process. And if you’re a mystery writer, take note: traditional mysteries like Academic Body often do better with a regional or niche press than they do with big conglomerates.

And best of all, you don’t need an agent to submit. Just start searching for small presses in Writers Market, or join an organization that vets publishers in your genre, like Sisters in Crime, MWA, SFWA or RWA.

Mainly Murder is a new press—only a year old—so you won’t find it listed at Preditors and Editors or any of the other sites that you’d normally want to check before signing with a publisher. But they are a solid company who charge no fees for editing, printing or cover design. They use POD technology, as do most small publishers, but their books are available through Amazon and other online book outlets, and well as brick and mortar book stores (distributed through Ingram.) They also leave your ebook rights with you.

If you decide to go with a small press, do make sure they have good distribution and no hidden fees before you sign, and make sure they’re not listed on Writer Beware’s Two Thumbs Down list of less than honest publishers.

Then you might find a publisher, too—and you don’t have to wait until you’re nearly ninety.

Did I mention that Academic Body is a great book? It’s an exciting, elegantly plotted read for anybody who loves a traditional mystery. The charming sleuths are a couple of fish-out-of-water New Yorkers of the MadMen era trying to fit into small town life in rural Maine—as well as survive the often down-and-dirty politics of academia. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble (where they are offering a great limited-time price) or at the Mainly Murder Press website.

Congratulations, Mom!

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