Decision Made: I’m going DRM-FREE

I made the decision pretty early last night. Migraine or not, most problems are solvable by thinking, and this one was.

Logic is lovely that way. And my husband is the best sounding board on the planet, because he is brilliant at asking questions that allow me to cut through to what is essential in any situation.

We talked about this for well over an hour, but the whole conversation finally boiled down to this simple question:

  • What matters to me in this equation?

And what matters to me was the simplest and most obvious thing in the world. I want to be able to guarantee that my readers will not get screwed by not being able to read books they paid for.

The instant I realized that was my issue, solving it became both clear and easy.

If that’s what matters to me, then where’s the debate? I’ll go DRM-FREE, and trust my readers to watch my back when I can’t.

As for the notice, not WARNING that I worked out, I need to explain my background. I was an ER RN before I was a writer. A critical part of my job was explaining to people who were not initially interested in what I was saying that there were things they might do when they got home that would KILL THEM, and that they had to be careful not to do these things. Mixing medications and alcohol was always a biggie, but there were a lot of others.

I was good at this. I did it by being blunt, by being as honest as I could about the risks and consequences, and by not softening what I was saying to spare their feelings, because their lives were more important than their feelings.

Sound at all like the warning I wrote out explaining copyright? It was written with the same intent—but I tend to go with “this is how you save your own life” as my default information-sharing technique, even in situations where I later realize the issue is not life-or-death. (In the ER and medicine in general, you MUST start with a baseline assumption that that issues are life or death, and assess down from there, or you end up with a whole lotta dead people in your ER who were “just complaining about indigestion.” Once you’ve learned to operate that way, and to understand at a bone-deep level WHY you must operate that way, it’s pretty hard to turn off.)

I got some really good suggestions from readers, however, and am going to end up with a notice like this (I haven’t settled on a final wording yet) at the end of each book instead.


Thank you for reading, and I’m delighted you found it worth finishing.

Writing is how I feed my family and keep a roof over my head. If you received a copy of this book you have not paid for, please take the time to purchase a copy from: [pending link on]

Your payment helps me continue to write new books.

Holly Lisle

So that’s where I am with this, and why.

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103 responses to “Decision Made: I’m going DRM-FREE”

  1. Will Avatar

    Holly, I applaud you. You’ve tackled a complex issue, and fought through what sound like terrible migraines to arrive at what sounds to me like the best solution. Congratulations. As ever, you’re one of my heroes.

  2. Michelle Avatar

    What is DRM? I only buy from amazon.

    1. Holly Avatar

      It is encoding that locks your purchased material to the device for which you purchased it. Theoretically, anyway.

    2. Robin Avatar

      For examle, on Amazon, it limits the use of purchased files to certain accounts. Yours, specifically. Also, it allows Amazon to remove the file from your library if they decide not to offer it anymore (this has happened before, where the book was purchased and suddenly nobody had the book anymore.)

      It’s used to combat rampant illegal copying, which is noble, but carries with it the fact that you buy a license, not the book itself, and licenses can be revoked.

  3. KenB Avatar

    Thank you for sharing your DRM dilemma. I had never thought of anything even regarding this subject. Very educational. I like your statement for the back of the book as well; I also agree with Cat about maybe placing it in the front.

  4. MaryN Avatar

    Agree with Texanne and all who commented on how informative and educational the discussion was. Thanks for starting it. Sounds like you made a good decision for the right reasons, given the current state of DRM usefulness and effectiveness. I also like your “notice” wording very much.

  5. Christopher Walker Avatar

    Holly, this is great! I also strongly second the idea to tell readers to leave a review.

  6. Patrick Avatar

    I think you made the right decision on the issue and I want to thank you for all your hard work on it. You are an inspiration to all!!

    Best wishes and good fortune for you. I always look forward to reading more from you.

  7. Ricardo Avatar

    Hi, Holly

    While I was hoping you would decide to go DRM-free, I was also fully prepared for you to go in the opposite direction, which no one could have begrudged you. That you have chosen openness and freedom, even with the attendant risks, makes me an even bigger fan of yours than I already was.

    People in my field (software development) who’ve gone DRM-free have more often than not been pleasantly surprised by how willing the average person is to adhere to the honor code when the content creator gives them the benefit of the doubt and foregoes DRM. I hope we, your fans, will make you happy you chose this course of action.

    Thank you for being not only a phenomenal writer, but also a kind and generous one.

    1. Robin Avatar

      I’m also a software developer, and a writer, and I know both myself and my friends are far more likely to purchase anything from people who seem trusting and fair. is an immensely good example of this. DRM free games, selling like DRM free hotcakes.

  8. Ron Avatar


    Two words: Nape Piercing! I was plagued with cluster migraines for a period of about 3 months. Got my piercing in the middle of a migraine and two hours later it was gone. That was my last migraine and that was 5 years ago. The piercing works as a permanent acupuncture treatment.

    One caveat, make sure your piercer has been trained for the proper location by an acupuncturist.

  9. Deborah Robson Avatar

    Perfect, Holly: decision and text. Well done.

  10. Tracy Avatar


    I think it is perfect, but would agree that encouraging readers to leave a review would be a great idea.

    I am envisioning you happy, healthy and headache free. Hopefully you will feel much better soon, especially since this concern is now off your mind.

  11. Michelle Avatar

    I’m glad you came to a decision. DRM is a very complicated thing and it sounds like you’ve reached a conclusion that will work well for you. 🙂 I would have bought your stuff regardless, but I am pleased you chose DRM-free… it makes me more comfortable knowing that your teaching will always be there for me if I buy it. The message sounds good too.
    Also, I will check around some of the places illegal copies might turn up every now and then, and if I ever find anything I’ll be sure to let you know. 🙂 It’s the least I can do for the person who inspired me to think that maybe writing could be something I could actually do. 🙂

  12. Cat (from HtTS) Avatar

    It’s very much like the short text I put in my eBooks. Since it’s short and sweet, you might consider putting it to the front (before readers start reading), so they at least see it. Not everybody reads on after “The End”.

  13. Texanne Avatar

    Holly, I sure do appreciate your hosting this discussion–it’s been highly educational for me. You never fail to share your knowledge and though processes. I’m also grateful for the comments, which have also been enlightening. This place is so cool. :)TX

  14. Deborah McCann Avatar
    Deborah McCann


    It took me a while to wade through all the piled up emails as I have had to deal with life changing family issues over the last couple of months. You are right on target, and found a way to do this professionally as well as being true to yourself. Now, go take care of yourself and we will be here for you.

    1. Shelia H. Avatar
      Shelia H.

      I’m glad you’ve worked this out. I hope your headaches go away soon, and permanently.
      Also, somebody here said something about nape-piercing for migraine relief: I once had an extremely skeptical (and desperate) friend who’d had migraines most of his life profess to relief from that method.
      He didn’t care how weird it was, he didn’t want to talk about it, it was virtually unnoticeable, and he said it worked. I know nothing. I just thought I’d pass it along.

  15. Lynda Wilcox Avatar
    Lynda Wilcox

    Well done, Holly. I didn’t enter the debate but you’ve made the right decision AND for the right reasons.

    Hope the migraine’s beter soon.

  16. Leah Avatar

    You get more flies with honey than with vinegar. When you put up a strict, direct “warning” people want to ignore it or defy it. When you make it sweet and simple people will (for the most part) return in kind.

  17. Skipper Hammond Avatar

    Good decision. The shortened, respectful warning will probably be much more effective than the fat bully original.
    Let’s hope that with the decision made–a decision you can feel good about–your head will smile again.

  18. SharonW Avatar

    Congratulations on being able to think logically while in the grip of a migraine! And I hope it clears up REAL soon.

    That said, I love the wording of your (proto)statement, and also the explanation of your default thought process.

  19. Benjamin Avatar

    The disclaimer is short and sweet and I can scroll past it and get on with the story in one press of a button. It won’t irritate me like the FBI warnings that you can’t skip past on movies.

  20. Brittany Avatar

    Now this notice actually makes me feel sympathetic towards you rather than threatened by you. Unfortunately, we humans sometimes have to be primed to do the right thing, and this is a much better way to go about it. Well done, good decision, and I hope you feel better soon!

  21. Vero Avatar


    I’m glad you cut through the nauseating whirl of fears and worries and concerns and legal issues and blah blah blah when’s your next book coming out? 😉

    1. Vero Avatar

      Oh, and this version of a NOTICE is simply wonderful. Great psychological finesse in it, because appealing to people’s sympathy and understanding works much better than warning them (I don’t care if that initial version was named “notice” if it walked and quacked like a warning) that they might be doing something illegal.

      Thank you so very much for discussing such things openly and for listening to your devoted readers. 🙂

  22. John Melka Avatar
    John Melka

    Bravo on your decision. Now ice packs on the carotids, drugs to lower the vagospasms and a quiet dark room to let them work!

  23. Michele Avatar

    Very interesting discussion — I didn’t understand what DRM was, or whether it even affected me, as a voracious reader, or as a published author (in print now, but considering when — not if — to add an ebook version of Lifelines, our poetry anthology).

    I’ve only recently started adding ebooks to my iPad, some through author sites, but mostly via Amazon with a Kindle app. When possible, I’ve chosen PDF format intuitively, since I could put them in Dropbox and access them on my windows 7 laptop, my iPhone, iPad, or desktop Mac, reading them on whichever device I was using.

    i’ve been frustrated when I couldn’t download (or get rid of) an ebook from the online public library when I accidentally chose the wrong format. Now I understand why it happened. If it’s a problem with library books, then it’s an even more frustrating problem for purchased books.

    Thank you for posing the question, and sharing your logic and decision-making process. I already own several of your books, and will make a point of buying some copies for a couple of dear friends. (Note — I never share e-copies, since I truly understand what goes into the creative process.)

  24. John Iovine Avatar

    I agree with your outcome. And thank you for coming up with the DRM survey question, hosting the participation, comments and viewpoints that resulted from your question and your outcome. Very generous of you. I lurked with great interest. Wishing you the best success.

  25. Chris Kelworth Avatar

    It sounds like you’ve worked your way through to a pretty good place. I try not to make a big deal out of buying DRM, but I’ve been burned a few times already… Adobe changing their old standard for PDF-based DRM ebooks, and being unable to re-activate Microsoft Reader on my windows mobile device. 🙁

    And your piracy notice yesterday forced me to really look at and think about a collection of digital book files that a friend offered to me, and I made copies of. 🙁 Last night, I placed several orders on the Amazon Kindle store to purchase my own copies of books from the ‘pirate collection’ that I’d read, or was in the middle of reading.

    1. Texanne Avatar

      This is wonderful, Chris. 🙂

  26. Lisa Hartjes Avatar
    Lisa Hartjes


    Thank you for the time and effort you took when trying to figure out which path was the best one for what you envisioned for your work. As a writer, I can sympathize.

    I wanted to let you know that, regardless of which way you’d decided to go, I would still support you and purchase your books. As much as I love the freedom on DRM-free ebooks, I fully support the right of people to protect their work.

    Lisa Hartjes

  27. Jan from Denmark Avatar
    Jan from Denmark

    Applause for treating your readers as honest people.

    You could also choose to add something the the effect of “Paying for my work will enable me to write more stories that you may enjoy”

  28. Tim King Avatar

    I’m so sorry to hear about your migraine, Holly. But I’m glad you had someone available to talk to and were able to work it out. It sounded like you made the right decision for you. And I love the content and tone of your proposed notice; it’s poignant and personal, and we will definitely watch your back when you can’t.

    Feel better, please. Looking forward to your next release.


  29. Robert Avatar

    I had just caught up with this discussion in the early hours at work and was interrupted before I could leave a comment. But it interested me enough to come back to it and, alas, you’ve come up with your answer and a wonderful request in the end.

    I, like you, will purchase a book over and over again if it’s beloved and begins to look beaten to hell, which I prefer to call “well loved”. I am wary about lending out my books because often I have to hound the person who borrowed it to give it back, so instead, if someone seems seriously interested in a book I have I will purchase it for them as a gift.

    I love books and I respect writers, obviously (being one). I am still rebelling against the e-book, because I still love to hold a solid paper-made book in my hands. I love to feel the pages between my fingers as I save my spot to reach for a drink or to answer the phone.

    My point is though, like many here, I do believe that the honest reader will do you the service of buying your book if asked politely with that nice little explanation as to why you’d appreciate that they do. Heck, I’m that one person who buys a book without a cover at a used book store and will call the publisher to find out if the book was “illegal” or perhaps the previous owner simply kept the cover. I know a lot of avid readers will keep the covers as record of which books they’d already read… off topic, sorry.

    In short (too late I know lol) Ya’ done good. 🙂

  30. Christopher Kellen Avatar

    Hi Holly,

    I’m glad that you were able to cut through the chaff and figure out what was important to you. The example note you’ve given above is exactly what being awesome is all about — it’s polite, and it treats your readers with respect. That call to action is much more likely, in my opinion, to get a positive result.

    Thanks for having this open and frank discussion with all of us – it’s an important issue, and getting it out in front of as many people as possible is really critical.

    You are a great writer and teacher, and I’m glad to see you leading the way. I hope others will make the same kind of considerations that you did and learn, once more, from your example.

    – Chris

  31. Keith Smith Avatar

    I have to say I think you have made the morally correct decision here, I only hope that this is reflected in the behaviour of your readership. I do think that extending trust pays off better than assuming nefarious behaviour. Apologies for the typos in my last missive, I’ve not been well.

  32. David Masters Avatar
    David Masters

    Love the new notice. Super.

  33. Margaret Avatar

    Very nice :). This should serve your purpose for those who are ready to listen, and for the rest, nothing would work. I agree on the reviews comment too. What a good thought. Most people don’t realize how beneficial those reviews are.

  34. Bill Avatar

    Your note at the end serves as an example to many.

    Good to see something simple and positive for a change.

  35. Bill Avatar

    Good call Holly.

    It’s clear what consumers want and that is no DRM. Credit to you for seeing this and taking the right stand.

    My personal opinion is that consumers do not feel they are treated with respect by some industries and DRM, aggressive news stories and copyright warnings are all part of the things that alienate the consumers from those who want their money. If I go into a goo department store the staff are polite, treat me with respect even if I’m being difficult or stupid and they always refer to me as “Sir”. Makes you feel good and repeat your custom.

    Meanwhile the movie industry assumes I’m a thief or have criminal intent, fails to give value for money, infringes my own rights and lobbies governments to take away many of my personal freedoms. They have only themselves to blame if customers hate them. I find it hard to understand how they expect to have such a relationship with consumers.

    I’m pleased to see you take a different route.

    1. Holly Avatar

      😀 I’ll note that I did not do this for “consumers.”

      I did this for my readers. My folks, many of whom I know by name or handle, have talked to, have faces for.

      The whole thing about making it personal goes both ways. I don’t give a damn about consumers collectively. But my readers matter a whole lot to me.

  36. Charlotte Abel Avatar

    Simply brilliant! Short, sweet, to the point and still honest. I especially like “I’m delighted you found it worth finishing” and your decision to put it in the back of the book.

    Feel better soon!

  37. Cameron Avatar

    Love the notice. For those of us who would buy from you directly, it’s non-offensive. For those that pirate, it might encourage them to not do that.

    Appreciate the thought you put into all of this.

  38. C.A. Avatar

    I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your listening on the issues of DRM locking people out of books in the future. It’s something that I think a lot of people are unaware of (heck, I was unaware of it until it happened to me!), but it means a great deal that you care enough about your readers to listen and understand. I’m like you: I re-buy books I love when I wear them out, or if I want a paperback as well as a hardcover or an ebook as well as a paperback, or if I want to buy another copy to give as a gift. But it means a lot to know that if I buy a book in a particular format, whether for myself or as a gift, I’m not going to suddenly lose access to it sometime in the future. Opening a book I had enjoyed and wanted to reread and discovering that the content was locked made me sad, not even so much because of the financial impact but just because I had wanted to reread it, and having it be gone so that I couldn’t was disappointing!

    So it makes me happy to know that, when I buy your books, I’ll be able to happily reread them twenty years from now no matter whether the Kindle platform I’m using now drops dead. 🙂

    Thank you!

  39. Jennifer Avatar

    Holly, I think you are wonderful and very giving, and what you do is worth paying for! You are more that fair with your students and readers. I was sad somewhat when you decided to get away from this side of it but happy for you and I hope everyone who wants your courses pays for them because they are worth it. You give me hope as I am still working as a nurse (explaining things to people), that one day I can leave this job too and start a new one.

  40. Paul Howard Avatar
    Paul Howard

    Nod. Very good comment.

    I didn’t say much in the DRM discussion but I only purchase legal copies of ebooks.

    I do remove the DRM but that’s mostly so I can convert the ebooks into another format if need be.

  41. Charlotte Avatar

    I also think that is a nicely concise, honest note to include with your work. As I mentioned in another comment, I support your choice to either use DRM or go DRM-free–but I sincerely hope that people will choose to respect all of the hard work you put into writing no matter the case. If I do run into inappropriate use or distribution of your work, you’ll be the first person I immediately tell.

  42. Carradee Avatar

    I like it!

    Also, if you put a polite alert of “Please consider leaving a review to help other readers find books they like,” you’ll probably get more reviews. Just a thought. 🙂

    1. David Masters Avatar
      David Masters

      That is a very good point. Calls to action work – it’s a simple fact of marketing.

      And the more positive reviews you get, the more Amazon promotes your book for you.

    2. Holly Avatar

      Damn. That’s an excellent idea, and one that NEVER occurs to me. Thank you.

      1. Robert Guthrie Avatar
        Robert Guthrie

        While the links might fail in the future, a direct link to the review page of the retailer from whom the book was purchased will make reviews more numerous. I’ve signed many online petitions because there was a convenient link, and have gotten distracted from doing so as I tracked down the right web page.

  43. Sawyer Grey Avatar

    As both an avid reader with several hundred ebooks on my Kindle/Nook/PC and as a recently indie-published writer, I think you made the right decision and you’ll be a lot happier with your choice in the long run.

  44. Kevin O McLaughlin Avatar

    Sounds great, Holly. Best of luck with it. Now rest! =)

  45. Ruthanne Reid Avatar

    Yes! Excellent! Thank you for working so hard on this.

  46. Timothy Avatar

    Yes, I like this solution too. It shows you respect your readers and expect them to reciprocate.

  47. Charles Avatar


    This is an awesome solution. 🙂

  48. Joseph Robert Lewis Avatar

    Excellent, perfect, brilliant.

    Now go take some pain killers and lie down for a while.

    WARNING: I am not a doctor and the foregoing message cannot be construed as professional medical advice.

  49. Craig Avatar

    Hear, hear! 🙂

  50. Jason Avatar

    I like this notice much better. I think it strikes the right balance and treats your readers like the mostly honest and competent lot that they are. (And also, having several friends who are doctors/RNs, I completely understand why you wouldn’t ever want to assume competence on the part of ER patients…)

    If I can make one suggestion, it would be to add a line to the effect of, “I’m not a big business, and every sale makes a difference on whether I can pay for these things.” I think that will help address the people who think “but I’m only one person!”

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