We are pleased to welcome literary agent, Caroline Sheldon to explain why the saga is alive and kicking.
I have long noted there has been an almost indecent haste among editors to announce the death of the saga. Reasons for the diagnosis of its demise vary from the perceived declining readership because the books are only of interest to older readers to a perceived lack of understanding of the category by young supermarket buyers who are only interested in chic lit written for their contemporaries. But I am pleased to report that rumours of the death of the saga are greatly exaggerated. A new generation of readers is springing up, supermarket shelves groan under the weight of sagas each month and e books sales are strong. In a very difficult market, books by authors such as Katie Flynn, Maureen Lee, Donna Douglas,
Rita Bradshaw, Ruth Hamilton, Lilian Harry, Dilly Court and Lyn
Andrews continue to reliably generate bestselling sales. One or two sagas
are always in the bestseller list - and editors are now keenly looking for
authors who can write in this genre and write regularly with a minimum of one
or two books a year.
What makes a great saga? Of course, as in any genre, the formula varies, but at the centre of the story there is usually a heroine battling against the odds holding her life (and often the family) together through her determination. Despite the landscape often being grim and grittily industrial, there is always warmth in the writing and a nostalgia for sense of community that is past – a time when neighbours helped each other and in need went to borrow a twist of sugar or a candle –end from next door. Sense of place can be very important with books set in the back streets of great cities such as Liverpool or
London or Sunderlandoffering a picture of a tough urban landscape but rural life can also play a
part. A wartime setting or a setting between the wars works well but the
background can also be Victorian or just post the Second World War. But the most important facet is
that the author writes from the heart: the author has to deeply care about
their characters and the world in which those characters live and most importantly the author must feel no snobbery
about the genre itself. The emotions
and warmth of saga writing cannot be faked.
And in today’s perilous market, I feel sagas have another advantage. As an agent I feel to sell a rom com or mid-age read to one of the major publishers the book needs more than just to be very good of its genre. Maybe it’s just New Year blues but sometimes I think the bar has been set almost impossibly high for print publication – the manuscript has to feel like the best book ever-written, or be written by a celebrity or to be based on such a dazzlingly brilliant high concept idea that no-one can resist or of course be by an author with well-established sales. The saga market is more open – it just has to be very good of its type and of course tell a great story.
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