So, You Want to be a Ghostwriter

I write… especially if there’s a paying customer. Here’s the outline of the things I am prepared to tell a potential client. If you’re new to ghostwriting, start small and earn your sea legs. This example may help.

Picture source: Depositphoto

My capacities and services

My life interests and work experience have given me a broad vocabulary and exposure to a wide variety of social, technical, and scientific fields.

I am especially interested in (but not limited to) material related to human and technology development toward improved futures.

[BTW — Please help others. Highlight anything that strikes a chord with you.]

My own non-fiction prose tends to be carefully organized and tight, with words deliberately selected for their subtle shades of meaning.

Technical manuals and explainers are designed for directness and clarity at appropriate reading levels.

My fiction tends to be playful and (when appropriate) indulge the music of words. [I’ve discovered that many of my shorter pieces readily reformat into passable free verse.]

I work to stay aware of both the audience’s experience and the author’s intent and voice.

The process

If you’re truly into your project, our collaboration should be an enjoyable experience for both of us.

We are about to undertake some negotiations — with each person having their own interests and expectations. I like feeling that we have all communicated clearly, candidly, and in good will. For certain projects, a brief memorandum of understanding is sufficient. For most work, a standardized formal contract will cover most exigencies. However, I have found that the harder one tries to enumerate every possibility, the more readily ambiguous potential exceptions get built in.

I imagine that clients prefer to pay for results rather than activity. Therefore, I will tend to suggest payment by the word or by the project. If the project is large, we might want staged deliverables. If the project scope is flexible or poorly defined, we will need to make provision to cover the expense and effort of changes and/or extensions.

About fees

Always — The amount work and compensation may vary with a variety of factors including the size of the potential audience, the complexity of the concepts, and the sophistication of the presentation. For instance, an already started book should usually get credit for the author’s sweat equity. Maybe it’s mostly an editing job. Maybe it’s a hybrid thing. Let’s see.

Free: Initial video chat consultation. 30–60 minutes. It’s like speed dating.

About charging by the page — Trying to establish the capacity of a billable page has way too many variables. If asked, I’m likely to just estimate a page as having 250 words.

About charging by the hour — I try to give good value for work that is productive to you; I rarely charge for things like coming up to speed on new software. Remember that I am responsible for all my office space, utilities, insurance, computers, software, and years and years of experience.

About the book proposal — If, instead of self-publishing, you have an agent who will submit your book to publishers, don’t forget to roll this into the calculation.

400-word opinion column or brief blog post — A good, detailed interview up front should do the trick. That makes the job the equivalent of substantive editing enhanced with some spot research. $0.40/word, $160

1,200-word explainer or extended blog post — More detail required on the intended audience, end product, and approach. May need a couple of solid interviews, a follow up, and recommended useful resources. $0.95/word, $1,140

30% deposit begins around here. (+30% at delivery of detailed outline with several chapters fleshed out, and +40% at delivery of completed first draft.)

4,000-word long-read explainer or analysis article — A couple of solid interviews should still be okay if sufficient previous writings or resource documents are available. $1.00/word, $4,000

50,000-word medium informative book — More client interviews, more previous writings, more resource documents, more background research. May require a modest budget to purchase related books and more time to digest them. Periodic reviews will be needed to solicit substantive feedback. $0.90/word, $45,000

Full award-worthy or biographical book. Much time with principal and with additional sources and experts as well. Extended planning and negotiations needed. Will require supplemental research assistants. Probably not outside my competency, but currently outside my experience. If you’re serious, you’ve already thought this through pretty well. You start the conversation. I’ll ask for “_____ with David Satterlee” on the cover. It’s going to come out anyway.


I spent 17 years with AMOCO/BP in a variety of technical and communications positions. This included:

  • Computer system project and operations management
  • Chairman of Refinery Communications Committee
  • Designed and conducted engineer training courses
  • Wrote user manuals, computing newsletters and analysis reports
  • Participated in presentations to senior corporate management and
    one to the National Petroleum Refiners Association

I took early retirement from industry in 1995 and became a consulting and teaching herbalist, author of 3 works on the subject, and proprietor of my own supplement and natural food store for 7 years.

This was followed by becoming the Media Production Manager for a Utah publisher of books, subscription journals, and newsletters, as well as other printed, audio, and video training materials.

I retired again, got divorced, provided several years of in-home care for an aged relative. Then remarried to a talented public-school teacher and took the role of househusband. In that time, I became a substitute teacher, started writing and publishing my own books, wrote a newspaper opinion column, and fulfilled a variety of confidential ghostwriting projects.

When my wife retired, we moved to the high desert of Southeastern Arizona. After settling in, I acquired a suite of high-end audio post-production software, became proficient with editing and enhancing spoken-word recordings, and began recording and producing audiobooks.

I have recently completed transferring much of my own creative work to and am regularly recording and producing a related For Goodness Sake podcast.

A checklist for getting organized

  • What is your purpose for publishing this work?
  • What is your motive for hiring outside help?
  • Have you worked with a ghostwriter before? How did it go?
  • Have you already published any of your own writing? Where can I find it?
  • Have you already reviewed samples of my work? You can find links to a wide variety of my writing at
  • Describe your target format and intended audience?
  • List the genre and general subject of the project?
  • What are the scope and depth of your intended coverage of the subject?
  • What makes your approach to the subject noteworthy?
  • What is the specified or anticipated length?
  • Do you have a deadline that needs to be met?
  • What is the finished format or file type?
  • Is a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to be executed?
  • How many revisions (or sets of revisions) may be made?
  • Will the ghostwriter provide layout or participate in the publishing process?
  • Are milestones for time, deliverables, and partial prepayment appropriate?
  • Will the book require audiobook services?



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David Satterlee - GreenLeaderFour

David Satterlee - GreenLeaderFour

“He is humorous, bold, and adventurous all at once, channeled through a facility for language and the music of words.” “Deliciously snarky around the edges.”