What is it that makes some books stand out as potential bestsellers? What makes publishers fall over themselves and offer apparently vast sums to new writers? And just how competitive is the industry today?

The news that Penguin Random House paid more than $60 million to secure the rights to the memoirs of Barack and Michelle Obama confirmed that we are living in an era of unprecedented publishing fees. Bidding wars are not consigned to books by the rich and famous; rumours abound of six-figure advances handed over to debut novelists by publishers that are desperate to snap up works that could be the next big literary hit.

Our expert panel, chaired by Danuta Kean, includes Lisa Milton of HarperCollins, Ailah Ahmed of Little, Brown and Virago, and Kate Nash of Kate Nash Literary Agency. This is an exclusive chance to hear the truth behind the headlines and find out what the cut and thrust of the industry really entails for writers and publishers working today.

About The Speakers

Ailah Ahmed

Ailah Ahmed is a commissioning editor at Little, Brown Book Group. She works across two imprints: Little, Brown/Abacus and Virago. Ailah acquires fiction and non-fiction as well as works in translation. She has held editorial positions at Simon & Schuster and Canongate Books.

Lisa Milton

Lisa is Executive Publisher for the Harlequin division. This includes the imprints HQ and Mills & Boon. She joined HarperCollins in 2015 after a decade as Managing Director of Orion Publishing where she was responsible for Orion, Orion Children’s, Gollancz and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, which was awarded Imprint of the Year at the 2015 Bookseller Industry Awards. Whilst there she published major bestsellers and award winning authors including Maeve Binchy, Ian Rankin, Gillian Flynn and Malala Yousafzai.

Kate Nash

Kate Nash founded the Kate Nash Literary Agency in January 2009 and now represents a number of bestselling authors: Sue Fortin, Bella Osborne and Mandy Baggot. Kate understands what it’s like being an author; she’s had a number of her own novels published. The stress of climbing the slushpile led her to found the UK’s leading conference for aspiring novelists: the York Festival of Writing.

About The Chair

Danuta Kean

Danuta Kean is a publishing commentator and journalist for the Guardian, iNews, Mslexia and other publications. Her two most recent reports – Writing the Future and Centre Stage for the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation – held to account publishers and theatres for their failure to attract people of colour into their professions and have resulted in initiatives to encourage greater diversity.