The Valley Press Author Contract
2024 edition – the legal side of publishing, out on the "line" in broad daylight
In the interests of transparency – one of my major obsessions, especially in this brave new era – I’ve decided to publicly share the contract I will be offering to next year’s authors. What am I expecting you, the interested subscriber (or submitter) to do with it? Pick through, I suppose; question anything you don’t understand, and call me out on any parts that seem unfairly slanted in the publisher’s favour. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” as they say, and this is a document that has never stopped evolving since my first version in 2009 – which included just five bullet points!
All the same, I did take a brief pause for thought before posting today’s missive. I’ve never seen any other publisher share their contract, and I must admit it does feel faintly uncomfortable, like hanging underwear out to dry in a public area. (Perhaps that’s the origin of the term “legal briefs”.) I’ve taken that slight discomfort as a sign that I should definitely go ahead; a life policy that has (usually) served me well.
Ultimately, I could think of only one good reason not to share: that writers might object to the finer points of their business arrangements being bandied around on Substack. However, at the time of posting, not a single author has signed the version of the contract reproduced below. I rewrote it from scratch over the summer in the hope of making it flow more logically; the previous version, patched together bit by bit over the years, was becoming something of a head-scratcher.
So it’s all mine (for now), and any author who does sign this will do so fully aware that the details are public knowledge – which I’m hoping will prove reassuring rather than embarrassing. In a sense, there’s no better way to ensure you’re being treated fairly compared to your fellow authors, and that I’m not taking advantage of anyone’s publishing naivety. Be warned though: if you feel compelled to negotiate (as many authors do), you’ll be negotiating to change the terms for everyone, and I will post any revisions and updates here as they are made.
Finally, a warning to the many aspiring publishers reading this: do not steal this contract wholesale for your own use, especially without fully understanding the ins and outs. I’ll explain the thinking behind each clause in a future article, but be aware that neither that post nor this one constitutes any kind of legal advice. (They are for “informational purposes only”, as the disclaimer goes.) Ask a relevant trade body, e.g. the Publishers Association, for help in this area, or perhaps try the Society of Authors (who have made many significant contributions to the below).
With that said, it’s time to read the contract – but to reduce the risk of casual theft, and also because it is a highly educational read, I will be deploying the paywall at this point. See you on the other side!