Friday, January 3, 2014


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. 
Caroline Sheldon runs the eponymous Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency which she set up twenty five years ago and represents a roster of bestselling authors writing in the broad church of woman’s fiction.  She welcomes submissions from authors.  Her submissions requirements are a full email describing the project you would like her to consider and telling herself about yourself and your ambitions as an author.  Email subject line should include the word Submission and her email is

Thank you for joining us, Caroline.

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Beth Elliott said...

Thank you for telling it like it is. A very helpful piece for any writer, although I'm not sure you offer anything but blood, sweat and tears.

Anna Jacobs said...

Very interesting piece, Caroline. I particularly liked your analysis:
'lack of understanding of the category by young supermarket buyers who are only interested in chic lit written for their contemporaries'

I'm an avid reader as well as a writer of three novels a year, but I can't often find books in the supermarkets because I don't want to read sagas - writing two a year is enough - and chick lit isn't of interest to me.

It's no wonder people are buying more and more on line. We get so much more choice. If supermarkets did it right, they'd have an 'order a book and we'll get it in for you' system.

Freda Lightfoot said...

My sagas were once bestsellers in print, and I was highly ranked in libraries, but then as a new series suffered a blip in sales I was dropped. The good news is I'm selling them myself now as ebooks as my readers are still with me, and making far more money than I did in print. Interesting times.