“We’re going where no agents have gone before,” says Sam Hiyate, founder and CEO of the Rights Factory, about the agency’s newest side project, a podcast called Agent Provocateur.
The series, which is co-hosted by Hiyate and TRF executive editor Diane Terrana, and produced by novelist and former CBC producer Andrew Kaufman, debuted on July 31, with new episodes scheduled to appear weekly. The first season has six episodes already slated and Hiyate is hoping to take the podcast on the road if he ends up attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Canada is the guest of honour country, in October.
“I only wanted to do six episodes for the first season,” Hiyate says. ”But Canada’s the guest of honour [at Frankfurt]. I will never see this again in my lifetime.”
The inaugural episode of Agent Provocateur features a panel – composed of Terrana; Harlequin trade publishing digital marketing manager Lindsey Reeder; and YA novelist Marissa Noelle – talking about the merits and drawbacks of BookTok as a marketing platform, as well as an editorial from Terrana on whether novelists should chase a trend by inserting COVID-19 related content into their manuscripts, and TRF’s foreign rights manager Milly Ruggiero discussing foreign sales at virtual rights fairs in Bologna and London during COVID-19. “It was a pilot that we upgraded to being a full episode because it came out so well,” Hiyate says.
Writing on Substack, Hiyate describes Agent Provocateur as “a podcast curated to intrigue, entertain, and yes, provoke you – to engage you with what’s in our hearts and minds at The Rights Factory – what we love about our work – and what we find curious and worthy of investigation.” The episodes will all be thirty minutes or less and future iterations include a panel discussion of celebrity book clubs, an analysis of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s most recent reading list, and publishers Ken Whyte and Jack David on transparency between authors and publishers.
“What I was trying to do [with the podcast] is tell the world that we’re actually pretty fearless, we have opinions,” Hiyate says. “If we get some interesting people and have some good questions, we can have a conversation that almost nobody else is having.”
As the name suggests, Agent Provocateur is a podcast that is not afraid of taking a stance or ruffling feathers, though Hiyate also says he wants to spotlight all sides of an issue. In the debut episode, while Reeder and Noelle are generally favourable toward BookTok and its potential as a marketing tool directed at Gen Z, Terrana is uncompromising in her assessment of the platform as ”anti-literacy.” “We’re talking about things that other agents are talking about, maybe not as publicly,” says Hiyate. “The thing that we want to do is say, we have thoughts about this, and even if we’re torn in our opinions, we’ll let you know that we’re torn.”
This also has the knock-on effect of personalizing TRF figures who might otherwise be obscured behind brief bios on the agency’s website. “Our agency is embodied in this podcast. Almost everybody in the agency has got a role to play,” Hiyate says.
The initiative is also a valuable tool for building and maintaining community among the various employees at TRF, especially during a pandemic that has forced people to work from their homes and to forego public events that would offer networking or social opportunities. “The main goal is to keep us all working on a project together that’s about us. That’s one thing. The second thing is it’s a chance to share how much we love what we’re doing with the rest of the world.”
One aspect of the TRF brand Hiyate hopes to convey is a sense of fun. Much of this, Hiyate credits to Kaufman, who brings his broadcast experience to story meetings and actively helps to shape the way each episode will unfold online. “Whether it’s a panel or an opinion or a dialogue, he wants every one of those to work like a story,” says Hiyate. “I said, ‘I want to have the quality of CBC but none of the monotony.’ ”
If future episodes maintain the tempo and light hand of the debut, monotony is likely not something Hiyate has to worry about. Agent Provocateur’s cheeky attitude is emblematic of TRF’s ethos, which is sure to help with the company’s branding, even as the agency expands by leaps and bounds. Hiyate has recently hired new staff and expects to do as many deals in 2021 as the company did in its first five years of existence.
While all of that is going on, Hiyate seems to have found a pet side project that enthuses him at least as much as his day job. ”I’m having so much fun with the podcast,” Hiyate says. ”I think it [will keep going] from here until I can’t speak anymore.”