Cally Poplak Interview

Cally Poplak

Managing Director - Egmont (Harpercollins)

How did your career in publishing begin and who are some of the household names you've had the pleasure of working with?

I started as editorial assistant at Hodder Children's Books after temping at Walker in my university holidays, which is where I discovered my passion for children's books.

As a Fiction editor, I had the pleasure of working with a range of talented writers, like Michael Morpurgo, Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), William Nicholson, Anne Fine, Jamila Gavin and Jenny Nimmo; as publisher with broader responsibilities across the whole Fiction and Picture Books list, illustrators like Helen Oxenbury, Jan Fearnley and Lydia Monks; and now we publish talented author-illustrators on the list like Jim Smith and Laura Ellen Anderson.

What are some of the most a ) enjoyable and b) challenging aspects of your role?

As Managing Director, my role is strategic and managerial, and I take great pride in our company mission 'To make all children proud readers' and to ensure a child-friendly portfolio that offers entry points into reading for all children.  It's a pleasure to see this come to life through our broad portfolio, which is underpinned by unique data and research that aims to bring down barriers to reading for pleasure and book buying.  My biggest challenge is the lack of hours in the day!

What have been Egmont’s publishing successes in the past year?

So many!  Let me share some fantastic recent successes during lock down:

From our Picture Book list: Thank You, Baked Potato! by Matt Lucas - turnaround in just one month and published this month (May) in aid of FeedNHS. 

From our Fiction list:  Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson, which also published in May and made #2 in the bestseller charts in one of the most challenging retail environments to date. Last year, Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder was the bestselling children’s and YA debut of the year. It recently became a NYT no.1 bestseller.

From our Brands & Licensing list:  The Royal Engine, a brand new Thomas-the-Tank Engine story. The TV episode is introduced by Thomas fan, Prince Harry!

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With reading for pleasure increasingly competing with social media and streaming services, what is Egmont’s business strategy?

To support our mission to make all children proud readers, especially as reading for pleasure is declining, we invest in research that shows how children who are reluctant readers can be turned into passionate readers, and there is plenty of research and data to show how children who read for pleasure have better academic and life chances.  Our research studies can be found on our website, including our Stories and Choices study, where we worked with a school in Stock-on-Trent and showed how daily story time for pleasure - with no academic agenda - has a dramatic impact on children's independent reading (and reading attainment). We are now campaigning to have daily story time made a part of the statutory curriculum. 

What mitigation plans are you busy putting in place in response to the current Covid-19 crisis?

We have a number of plans in place to maximise sales of our books where consumers can still buy them, whilst protecting the health and safety of our staff. I am tremendously proud of the excellent team work that continues even whilst everyone is home based.

With schools closed for the foreseeable future, what entertainment and educational support will Egmont be providing for parents and children?

I’m delighted to say that Egmont was the first children’s publisher to create a bespoke website, providing dedicated entertainment and educational support to families and children during Covid-19. provides parents, educators and families with activities, resources and guidance to help keep all children occupied from pre-schoolers to teenagers.  Egmont understands the importance of reading for pleasure, so the site features not just a wealth of activities, videos and puzzles for children of all ages but also support for parents too.  There is an abundance of downloadable resources across our Picture Book & Gift, Fiction and Brands titles which will appeal to all children, from reluctant readers to those confidently reading during this unprecedented period.

Tell us about some of the exciting acquisitions Egmont has made recently.

On the Picture Book list, on top of Matt Lucas’ Thank You, Baked Potato! we’ve recently acquired the hilarious Kittens on Dinosaurs from Michael Slack. I can see these dino-climbing kittens quickly becoming a favourite for children and parents alike.
On the Fiction list, we’ve snapped up the YA debut from K-Pop royalty Jessica Jung – former lead singer of superstar group Girls’ Generation. Inspired by her personal experience of the industry, Shine will bring the hyper-colourful, hyper-competitive world of K-pop to life.

On the Brands & Licensing list, this October we are set to publish the first ever official annual celebrating the legendary fantasy role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons.

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To what extent is Egmont actively trying to work with authors and illustrators from under-represented backgrounds?

Our commissioning editors are actively working with agents, based in the UK and beyond, to improve the inclusiveness of our list. We want children to see their family and lives reflected in our books, whether it’s a picture book being read to them, an exciting adventure devoured under the covers or an inspiring, life-affirming novel-in-verse. We’re particularly excited to have just revealed the cover for BB Alston’s debutl, Amari and the Night Brothers.

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'Best children's book character of all time', who gets your vote?

Winnie-the-Pooh!  I have a photograph of me in my cot having a very earnest chat with my toy Pooh Bear, which I still have.  Then, he was the same size of me; now, I have the honour of being the publisher of those wonderful books.

What does it take to succeed in children's publishing?

An absolute passion for what children love - writers, illustrators, brands, toys, games, films, TV - and an eye for what their parents will buy for them!

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