As far as Hachette Book Group field rep Randy Hickernell is concerned, although the world has changed since he became a rep in 1979, his repping style has, fundamentally, remained the same—even since the onset of the pandemic.
“I’ve served my buyers in the same way in recent years as I’ve done in the previous 40, by committing to their needs and helping them remain healthy and successful,” he says. “I’ve viewed them not just as business partners but as family. Having these close relationships with booksellers and knowing the bookstores intimately has made it possible to work by phone, email, and video calls throughout these past two years.” Still, he adds, “I’m eager to get back on the road and see them in person.”
The Denver-based rep calls on independent booksellers in his territory, which currently encompasses Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming. It’s a big slice of America’s heartland, much of it rural. Hickernell, prepandemic, typically traveled 20,000–25,000 miles each year.
A native of Lancaster County, Pa., who moved west 50 years ago to attend the University of Idaho, Hickernell is approaching half a century in the book business. Hired in 1976 as a bookseller at Hunter’s Books in Bellevue, Wash., straight out of college, Hickernell worked there for three years before moving to the publishing side as a mass market sales rep for Warner Books. His territory in 1979 spanned Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
Since that first repping job, Hickernell’s employment history during an age of mergers and consolidations in the publishing world encompasses a dizzying array of imprints, along with shifting combinations of primarily Western states that he was responsible for covering at various times, though his territory has in the past extended east to Ohio and south to Tennessee.
After serving as a Random House rep for 20 years, Hickernell was laid off when Bertelsmann acquired Random House and merged the Ballantine and Bantam sales forces. A short stint as a commission rep with Thomas McFadden’s group followed before Hickernell, in a sense, returned to his rep roots, joining Time Warner Books in September 2001; five years later, Hachette Book Group acquired Time Warner Books, and Hickernell became a Hachette field rep.
Throughout his long career, Hickernell has maintained a strong sense of his crucial role in the pipeline that routes books from publisher warehouses to consumer hands, no matter what books he’s selling and to which accounts he’s selling those books. “I take all the creative energy from the publisher and share it with the booksellers, who are really important to their communities,” he says. “They work hard; many of them put their life savings into these bookstores. It’s important that I do everything that I can do for the bookstore and that I represent my publisher as best I can.”
Reflecting on how repping has evolved in the digital age, Hickernell is sanguine. “Edelweiss has made repping quite different and in a lot of ways made it better,” he says. “It’s still a lot of fun. The best part is reading so much, and the essential part of it, still, is the connection with booksellers, publishers, and other reps.”