What is Agent Provocateur?

A podcast from The Rights Factory, for starters.

We’re launching 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. In the first few episodes, we chat to agents, authors, and publishers from here, America, and across the pond. We discuss BookTok, Heather's Picks (should she even have one for Indigo?), Obama’s summer reading list, and we ask a wine expert which wines go best with iconic Canadian novels—and that is just a taste.

The term “agent provocateur” describes those who provoke in art, culture and literature, though it has a more radical provenance. Oscar Wilde was called a colourful agent provocateur of Victorian society with his prison confessional, De Profundis. Writers like Gunter Grass, Michel Houellebecq and Ta-Nehisi Coates have been called similar, though did we all miss Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, and more recently, Elfriede Jelinek and Toni Morrison as provocateurs?

I love the term “agent provocateur” as much as I love the wit, charm and fierce flamboyance of Wilde himself. (Gutter Press—my old publishing firm—was named from his “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”) I mean, we’re actually agents.

Literary agents occupy a precarious position. By nature, we’re all optimists and believe in the universal power of stories. At our agency, our urgent and favourite mission is changing lives, bringing new talent and works to market. We do a lot of editing, and retain editors on staff. Ours is the responsibility and duty of balancing what the talent wants (or needs) to create with what the market wants (or needs) to buy, juggling the high stakes of love and money, two things that are often difficult to reconcile.

Ever since Curtis Brown—arguably the first lit agent—published Contacts in 1935, folks have been curious about how agents work behind the scenes. At The Rights Factory, we feel a journey of a thousand stories begins with a single episode. Join us.

Our podcast is hosted here, and available via all the usual suspects.

— Sam Hiyate