An Author’s Life


Chances are, since you’ve come to this site, you already know that I’m an author. But what, exact­ly, does an author do? Besides writ­ing, of course. My own per­son­al non-author friends are con­found­ed by that ques­tion. You may be, as well.

To begin with, an author’s life is not one long, glo­ri­ous retreat in a cab­in nes­tled in the moun­tains, or loung­ing in a cot­tage along the Ocean­side, as Hol­ly­wood por­tray­als might have you believe. No. The author’s life is some­thing else altogether.

I thought it might be worth­while to write down my per­son­al job descrip­tion to give you the real skin­ny on an author’s life — this author, at least! Inter­est­ed? Read on.

Nikki Grimes at work in her office
Nik­ki Grimes at work in her office

tick . tick . tick . tick . tick

I work six days a week, every week that I am in town, except for Thanks­giv­ing, Christ­mas, New Year’s, and East­er. I used to work sev­en days a week until God impressed upon me the sacred­ness — not to men­tion the san­i­ty — of the Sabbath.

It’s not unusu­al for authors to work these kinds of hours. Which is why she has no “free” time, per se. Is her time flex­i­ble? Yes. And no. She is free to sched­ule things at her own dis­cre­tion, but once an event is sched­uled, there is no flex­i­bil­i­ty. Some­thing else is gen­er­al­ly sched­uled pri­or to, and fol­low­ing, said event. Not much wig­gle room to speak of.

Hello, out there!

  • I com­mu­ni­cate with my agent 2 to 3 times a week.
  • I cor­re­spond with edi­tors 2 to 3 times a week.
  • I answer fan mail daily.
  • I orga­nize and sub­mit man­u­script mate­ri­als and edi­to­r­i­al let­ters to the Ker­lan Col­lec­tion of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, a repos­i­to­ry and ref­er­ence facil­i­ty for chil­dren’s literature.
  • I process Deed of Gift forms for the above, one form per manuscript.
  • I respond to reg­u­lar requests for pre­vi­ous­ly unpub­lished poems to be print­ed in anthologies.
  • I respond to reg­u­lar requests for book dona­tions, select­ing and ship­ping said books.

Get you new book right here!

  • I order and review the cre­ation of teach­ing guides for my books.
  • I ship gal­leys of each new book to key librar­i­ans around the coun­try to help pro­mote my books.
  • I design, print, and ship post­cards to pro­mote my books.I cre­ate and mail pro­mo­tion­al kits to those who request them.
  • I do radio, mag­a­zine, news­pa­per, and inter­net interviews.
  • I main­tain and update my web­site 1 to 2 times each month.
  • I cre­ate var­i­ous pieces of orig­i­nal writ­ing for libraries, schools, and char­i­ties who are arrang­ing spe­cial exhibits and displays.

A picture is worth …

  • I search for illustrators.
  • I review and com­ment on illus­tra­tions for my books.
  • I proof­read print­ed gal­leys of my books 2 to 3 times dur­ing production.

Aw, man, do I have to?

  • I con­duct inter­views as research for my books.
  • I do library and inter­net research for my books.
  • I shop for research mate­ri­als and office supplies.
  • I file, and file, and file some more (man­u­scripts, book reviews, cor­re­spon­dence, fan mail, etc.)
Nikki Grimes autographing books
Nik­ki Grimes auto­graph­ing books

As I was saying … speaking engagements

This is a cat­e­go­ry in, and of, itself.

Trav­el: I book my own flights.

Mate­ri­als: I print, pre­pare, and ship book­marks, post­cards, posters, and brochures to each event in advance.

Schools: I auto­graph book­marks for each child I meet with. In some cas­es, that num­ber exceeds 1,000 for a sin­gle school, alone. I fre­quent­ly vis­it sev­er­al schools in a row.

Admin­is­tra­tion: I’m in con­stant con­tact with event spon­sors to ham­mer out flight and hotel arrange­ments, book order specifics, dai­ly itin­er­ary, pro­gram para­me­ters, con­tracts, work or pur­chase order forms, tax forms, etc. If spon­sors wish to video­tape my pre­sen­ta­tions, release forms have to be processed. Gen­er­al­ly, I’m involved with arrang­ing as many as four dif­fer­ent events at any one time.

Fol­low-Up: After an event, I draft and mail expense reports for out-of-pock­et costs.

I send thank you cards to each sponsor.

I file all paper­work con­nect­ed with the com­plet­ed event.

blah, blah, blah …

  • I men­tor sev­er­al writers.
  • I serve as judge for lit­er­ary award com­pe­ti­tions. (For one such com­pe­ti­tion, I read 105 books.)
  • I read man­u­scripts by oth­er authors and occa­sion­al­ly write blurbs at their pub­lish­er’s request.
  • I’m on the board of a writ­ing mag­a­zine for which I read and com­ment on six issues at a time.

You’ll notice, I haven’t mentioned writing yet …

And you thought all authors do is write all day.


In addi­tion to my per­son­al writ­ing projects:

  • I write bio­graph­i­cal mate­r­i­al, per request.
  • I write poems for antholo­gies, fol­low­ing a sug­gest­ed theme or format.
  • I write speech­es and work­shop mate­r­i­al for the keynote pre­sen­ta­tions and school vis­its I conduct.

Get a life.

Besides all of the above, I work hard to main­tain my home, my gar­den, my rela­tion­ships, and to serve my church — not nec­es­sar­i­ly in that order.

Time’s a‑wastin’

As I said at the begin­ning, I have no “free” time. All of my time is expen­sive. Con­se­quent­ly, I spend it with a great deal of forethought.

The truth is, every­body’s time is expen­sive, yours includ­ed. Make sure you treat it that way.