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. David Avatar

    One of the negative sides of DRM is that in the bleak, digital future, you’ll never be able to share or borrow a book from a friend. From my own perspective, I’d have never read all the Leslie Thomas titles in my collection, (all paid for,) if I hadn’t been loaned a copy of “Dangerous Davies, The Last Detective,” whilst in hospital.

  2. Sylvia Avatar

    Wasn’t able to get in on the discussion either because my IE decided to hang up every time I went to your site. Finally decided to just get Firefox and see if it would work and it did. As others have said, I’d buy your books, DRM or no DRM, but I applaud your decision and notice. Very good.

  3. Walter Spence Avatar

    Jesus, Holly.

    When I made my earlier post upstream, I had not waded (swum, sank, borderline drowned) through the multitude of posts and replies on the DRM subject, but had merely read your opening blog post and maybe skimmed a bit before moving on. DRM has not been something with much (if any) meaningful impact on my life. I am one of those antiques who prefers to purchase a CD rather than download music, buy hardcopy books instead of ebooks, etc. Pretty much all I knew on the topic of DRM until now was what the acronym stood for.

    Then, while in the process of preparing for the Kindle release of House of Shadows, I was asked to fill out a form asking after things like the book’s ISBN, and then was asked if I wanted DRM for the book or not. And I remembered these blog posts, came back, and just now finished going through (most) of them.

    So the upshot is that I’ll be following your example and opting for no DRM. Your posts, and the replies they generated, educated me sufficiently to where I feel comfortable with my decision. My thanks to all the thoughtful and well-reasoned comments made on this subject.

    And to “Kate”, a very deep and respectful bow. That others would bully you for what was done to you says nothing about the kind of person you are, and everything about the kind of people they are. We are all formed from the same constituent chemicals which comprise the universe, which means that we are the children of stars, made from the stuff of stars, and you have a value which cannot be measured by the yardsticks of the ignorant. My most sincere best wishes for you and for your future.

  4. "KATE" Avatar

    I’m sorry Holly but I Have to ask this one question: Should I be writing? I’m 17 years old and had many things happen to me. My father sexually abused me, lock me up in a closet for four weeks without food or water, and many others that I can’t bring myself to write down. In most of my stories, I have notice that I put my characters through the same type of things I’ve been through (sorta like an outlet). Is this OK? Or should i give up writing fiction because everyone who reads my work gets depressed? I need your insight because I don’t know what to do. Please reply and thank you.
    *NOTE*: please do not tell me to get help. I went to 3 different people for my past; the first two killed themselves soon after & the last one kept on throwing holy water on me while calling me a she-demon

    1. Holly Avatar

      [Quick note before I reply—because you’re underage, and because you’ve written things here that could invite stalkers, harassment, and even legal issues for you, I changed your name. I apologize, but I don’t want this post to cause you trouble. You should be able to talk here, and you should not have to pay a price for doing so. There are times when anonymity on the ‘Net is to your advantage]

      From personal experience, writing can be cathartic, and can help you move forward with your life, and not for the world would I suggest you quit writing. It got me through some truly hideous times in my life, and while my situation was nowhere near as bad as yours, it was bad enough. I hope writing will help you move on, too.

      With that said, I’ve found a couple of things helped me a lot when I was writing my way out of hell.

      Change the situations and the players: That is, put your characters into bad situations that are NOT the SAME situations you faced. When you give them different problems, you can channel your own emotions and fears and memories, but you aren’t running through that unending loop of “did I cause this, was this my fault, why didn’t anyone help me, why didn’t anyone believe me?” You can get some distance and some perspective.

      Take it to another world: Write SF, write fantasy, write what you have to write as a historical, or a western, or set in the modern day but a long damn way from where you are right now. There are things you’ll need to write out, and will eventually find the words for, and if you make it clear to your subconscious mind that “this is not you, this is someone else, someplace else,” your subconscious mind will understand that it can say anything. You’ll have an easier time finding the write words.

      Persist: I wrote through tears. A lot. A lot of what I wrote, no one ever saw, or will ever see. Songs, poems, short stories, essays, timed writing. I destroyed a lot of what I wrote after I wrote it, because I didn’t feel safe leaving it where someone might find it. It didn’t matter. I wrote it, I knew it was true, and when I read it, my subconscious mind understood that what needed to be said had been said. It helped me, and at that point in my life, I was the one person I could save.

      Which brings me to this: Are you safe now? Do you have people you can trust in your life? You need to stay clear of the sorts of folks who carry holy water. They are not your friends.

      1. "KATE" Avatar

        Thank you for relpying so quickly. 🙂 Now I can stop thinking of myself as a monster/freak and more of an survivor for what happened to me. I have to admit, it is an unusual feeling that came over me when I read your reply. (you’re one of my 3 favorite authors whose books I read and loved enough to remember your names when looking for new reading materials & I was expecting you to tell me to give up writing and go die somewhere like most people.)
        Answering your questions:
        Yes, I am safe now. I live with my mother in a small town (also the first town) in Ohio. It’s quite a few states away from my father. I am still a bit wary of the people around me. I don’t know how but it seems that the people of my school always finds out about my past and bully me for it. But if you ever heard of the song “Fully Alive” by Flyleaf it describes how I am perfectly. 🙂
        *NOTE* if you want to email me you can. Not like author to fan or writer to writer. I think it’s safe to say neither of us wants that. Email me only as one friend to another, and only if you WANT to.

      2. "Kate" Avatar

        Holly my mother told me to stop writing “dark” stories because she is dateing a guy who will drink if everything around him isn’t happy (or all rainbows & butterflys)She has even gotten to the point of taking away all my writing and drawing supplies (which my drawings are mostly unicorns and what’s “dark” about unicorns?)She even checks my laptop & computer and I can’t lock her out useing a password because the last time I did and she hit me and swore if I did it again I would be going back to my father. I don’t know what to do. My mom and my family are making me feel caged and like a monster that shouldn’t live. School is starting in a few days & with the ways things are now I know I might try to end my life because of the restictions and the fear of going back to that man. I need your insight because I know I can’t go back to my father and If she does send me to him he’ll be getting corpse.

  5. Kit Russell Avatar
    Kit Russell

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve made a decision that supports your values, despite the migraine. (I hate those things.) I hope you’re feeling better now!

  6. Ann Beardsley Avatar
    Ann Beardsley

    And you are not the only one going DRM free:

  7. Richard Avatar

    For what it is worth, as I was actually reading the revised notice, I couldn’t help thinking that it might be more effective if put at the front of the book.

  8. Mel Corbett Avatar

    I’m glad you worked through this solution publically. I think this is a great place for aspiring writers to come and get information. I’ll probably be doing something similar when I (finally) get my stories cleaned up and publishable.

    ~ Thank you!

  9. Julie Greene Avatar


    I should also add that your statement mentions something that people often forget: Writers work hard.


  10. Julie Greene Avatar

    Holly, I agree with your decision, and I love your “warning” statement. I love honesty in writing, and I especially respect when a writer is brutally honest and direct rather than using euphemisms or down-playing the seriousness of an issue. Your writing hits it on the nail but at the same time you have not attacked or accused or judged. I think when people are trusted and treated with respect, they are more likely to act like responsible adults.


  11. Kim Avatar

    After reading the conversation between Michelle, Holly and Robin. I have to ask about a weird thing.
    I bought a book for my kindle that I forgot I already had a hard copy of. I didn’t use my kindle so much at the time. Anyway 5 minutes after I purchased it, I returned it. The system told me it would delete it but it never did. Since I wanted to know what might happen to books I wrote, I decided to just watch how Amazon handled this. I have watched other material come and go from my Kindle but not this one book. I find that somethings I can delete, some I can not. Samples you can delete and delete but they will keep returning (zombie books lol) same with this book. I have looked for the answer in Amazon’s system, only to see people with the same complaint but no answers.
    Do you know if that is a result of DRM or lack of it?

  12. KenB Avatar

    Educational, Thank you for sharing your strife involving DRM. I haven’t really thought of it before this discussion. I too like the blurb that you are going to put at the end of your books. I also agree with Cat that it may be better served at the beginning, & it’s short, sweet, and to the point.

  13. Bob Billing aka Astropolis Avatar
    Bob Billing aka Astropolis

    Well done, Holly. I think you’ve got it absolutely right.

  14. Zoe Cannon Avatar

    I’m glad you decided against using DRM, but more than that, I’m glad you were able to figure out what mattered most to you in the situation and find the right solution based on that. Whatever you chose, I would have kept recommending your course; it’s the single best writing resource I’ve ever encountered. But I think going DRM-free is the right decision, not just because of my feelings about DRM but because, like you said, it’s the clear solution given the conclusion you came to about what matters to you.

    I like your new version of the notice, and agree with the suggestion about asking for reviews. (Since you’re not going to be using DRM, once the books are available on B&N and Amazon you may also want to mention on your site that they’re DRM-free; some readers go out of their way to support authors who don’t use DRM.)

  15. Carrie Avatar

    I love the new notice! It strikes the perfect tone. Thanks for airing your process online and letting us see the discussion unfold.

  16. Trask Avatar

    I’ve been reading a lot on DRM management lately. Mostly because I keep getting screwed by it. I applaud your decision here Holly, as it’s one of conviction. I look forward to seeing the results, and hope it supports the theory that everyone is mostly honest and willing to do the right thing.

  17. Ben Avatar

    Awesome choice, Holly. I think that the message you are putting in your content is perfect, and if more people acted the way you are, the world would be a better place. Cheers.

  18. BobW Avatar

    That is a really good idea, Holly. It’s to the point and very non threatening. Thank you for sharing your DRM dilemma. I am now convinced non-DRM is the way for me too.

  19. Danice Akiyoshi ND Avatar

    As always, YOU ROCK!

  20. Ke-Yana Drake Avatar

    I often feel like trying to comment on your website is an exercise in futility because there are so many voices trying to communicate with you, Holly. But I would like to say this, in the hope you’ll read it: I respect you for your integrity and your sense of honour towards others. You seem to bring that integrity with you in everything you do and I feel that it’s a rare and precious commodity in our line of work. When I read some of the comments about people not valuing your work and basically telling you that you’re somehow an awful person to even contemplate using DRM’s on your stuff, I was appalled. Your work, and you by extension, are valuable. You helped me with my writing at a time when I really needed it and I’ve learned a lot from you. When I am able to get anything resembling disposable income I intend on buying your stuff and your books, always have.

    Good luck, Holly, and thank you for being you.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Thank you. It does get kind of busy in here sometimes, but I do read all the posts, even if I can’t answer all of them. And I take into consideration what each person who posts says.

      Hang in. And thank you for taking the time to comment.

  21. Storm Avatar


    I’d like to offer congratulations on coming to a decision. Whichever way you ended up going, finally having a decision in hand is always an achievement!

    As a couple of other people have mentioned, I opt to put the “If the copy of this book that you are reading was not purchased…” in the front of the book. I did this because I want people to be aware that, if they continue to read a book that they know is stolen, they’re doing so consciously and with full will of perpetrating a theft of intellectual property. I try to be somewhat gentle about it, only because that’s the way that I am — I try to be an optimist, and give people the benefit of the doubt that they’ll do the right thing if they know what that is.

    I remember buying paperbacks in years past, and them having a notice in the front that said “If you purchased this book without a cover, this book was designated as “destroyed” by the publisher, and was sold illegally. Please support the author by purchasing your books from a legitimate source.” It made it very clear what it meant to continue reading a book that WASN’T purchased legitimately, so I think that biased me towards putting the information in the front of the book, to give people the chance to do the right thing from the beginning.

    Thank you for caring for your readers — and again, congratulations on finishing the ‘decision climb’.

  22. Steve Smith Avatar
    Steve Smith

    Sounds like a good decision.

    As others have pointed out, in the past few months several players in the book business are moving away from DRM, including Pottermore, Tor Books, and the Independent Publishers’ Group.

    Good luck with it.

  23. Linda T. Avatar

    Thank you so much for sharing the process you went through in making this decision. It helps new writers like me to deal with issues like this for ourselves with some direction from someone who has already faced this problem. Writers need to stick together and learn from eachother. Koodoos for doing your part.

  24. MegC Avatar

    Late in entering the discussion, but I’m tickled with your decision to go non-DRM and especially with your revision of the note to include in the book. A note like the earlier version would be so irritating that it would taint any book it’s attached to. However, this more human version is a clear reminder of what’s right and would actually pull me into the book. As others have said, you might want to put it at the front, where those who don’t skip front material will see it. Does anyone read the stuff after the end of the book?

    Thanks for all the good, helpful work you do.

  25. Keith Avatar

    Have you considered adding a standard “If you enjoyed this book, you can buy more of my books at…” paragraph after the notice? With hyperlinks to make it easier for people to buy from you?

    You could even include a slightly different URL in each book that all lead to the same page (through redirects) to provide statistics on which books are driving people to your site.

    1. Holly Avatar

      😀 Oh, that notice is already in there. 😀

  26. Athena Grayson Avatar

    I read through most of the comments on the other day’s post (on my smartphone, no less, which tells you how keen my interest is in the discussion), and it seemed that the discussion might be clouding you up. With all the side commentary, your health issues, and the general ambiguity of the situation as it exists, it’s easy to lose focus on what’s really important–getting your books into the hands of the people who love your work in the best way possible for both you and the readers.

    I chose to go DRM-free because I came to the conclusion that I could grind my back teeth over all the people who might be getting something for nothing, or I could switch my focus to serving the people who are willing to show their support for my work. I think your author’s note reflects the respect you hold for your readers, but like others have said, be sure to include a sentence about leaving reviews.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I’ve found that to make good decisions, you need good data. Lots of it.

      I’ve found that my readers are pretty amazing people, and when asked, willingly supply me with amazing amounts of data, on every conceivable point of an argument, and on both sides of the issue.

      I’ve also found that in almost every case, there is one right question I can ask that will allow me to find the right thing to do, and that reading through all the data with which I’ve been provided, I will find the single data point I need that will allow me to ask that right question. The right thing is frequently not the popular thing: majority opinion is wrong far more often than it’s right.

      In this case, the critical data point was that people who bought DRM sometimes lost the products they’d paid for. It was something I did not know, and I had to read a lot of posts and process a lot of data to figure out THAT was the single point on which the entire debate crystallized.

      In this case, the right thing and the popular thing were identical, though the reasons behind what’s right are not the reasons behind what’s popular.

  27. Ed Avatar

    Brava, Holly! I think that this decision is right in line with the generous and optimistic attitude you have always displayed toward your readership, and I can attest to the fact that I have always felt like you treated me as a human being and a fellow artist through your courses.

    Thank you for taking the high road (and the less obvious to many people) and doing your part to make the world a little more humane and hopeful 🙂

  28. WandersNowhere Avatar


    I think you’ve made the right choice, and it is a very brave one. My one suggestion (that others have also made) would be to move the notice to the front of the book so it’s the first thing they see – and to add a photo.

    Actually seeing you there and seeing you as a human being would help win over those potential pirates who don’t think about the consequences of their actions or consider it a ‘victimless crime’.

    I wrote out a very long post about this topic but it got a little long to post here, and you’ve already made a decision, so I may put it on my tumblr and link to it later if anyone still needs food for thought.

    The summary would be: there seem to be multiple kinds of ‘pirate’ ranging from those who do it casually by accepting files shared by friends and downloading torrents without thinking of it as theft to those who use piracy as a ‘try before you buy’ method to those who use it to obtain rare things they can’t get elsewhere to those who consider it their right and responsibility to break DRM and provide free stuff for ‘the community’, to those who maliciously attack content creators who try to protect their IP with DRM, etc.

    But while there’s very little we can do to stop the (rare) malicious ones, the casual ones stand a strong chance of being won over by showing them they’re hurting a person’s livelihood if they steal this work – in exactly the way you’ve chosen.

    Also, consider that if someone -does- start distributing your work around for free, unless they remove that front page that, since it’s not a heavy legal-threat warning, they’re not likely to, every single person that downloads it for free is going to see that message. And that may just convince those with a conscience to buy your books after all. Turning the pirates’ methods against them is just a little bit Sun Tzu; how to win without fighting, yes?

  29. Walter Spence Avatar

    Not sure what I will do regarding DRM when the time comes I must needs consider it, but should I go a similar route to your own, my message may well be some version of yours, which I found quite classy.

  30. Rob Slater Avatar

    Good call, Holly. I think you nailed this one! Glad you found the right question to ask.

  31. Harald Avatar

    Just wanted to comment that I *love* that wording of the notice. I think it strikes the perfect balance – simply remind people that this is your bread’n’butter. Kudos!

  32. Robin Avatar

    Perfect. Exactly what I was trying to say in my meandering rant. I was already convinced I would, but now I am SO buying some your stuff.

    Also, get well!

  33. Kim Avatar

    I love the new notice format. Much like a letter to the reader. Very classy!
    I also like putting it in the back, you should be catching your reader on their high from your book in which case they should be more receptive and more proactive.
    Thank you for taking us on this part of the journey with you. It really helped me come to a resolution with my own process.

  34. Lisa Threadgill Avatar
    Lisa Threadgill


    I watched with interest the discussion regarding DRM with keen interest, as I have the same issue myself to face. I have taken the decision not to use DRM. You have my gratitude for sparking such a detailed conversation of the subject.

    You have always treated your readers and students with respect and integrity, and you are doing so once again.

    I’m hoping your migraines melt away sooner rather than later.


  35. Grumps Avatar


    As always, you excel in all aspects of writing, teaching, mentoring, inspiring, problem-solving, and sharing your concerns with devoted followers and students like myself.

    May I join everyone else in congratulating you on your decision to go DRM-free.

    I wish I could offer help in relieving your migraine… sorry; the best I can do from afar is to watch your back and send healing vibes in your direction.
    Grumps. 😉

  36. Craig Avatar

    Holy I wanted to add that I applaud you for allowing your readership and fans to weigh-in and contribute to your decision making process. I know that I for one appreciate that and I find myself that much more wanting to read all of your work. 🙂

  37. wing Avatar

    I am thrill about your decision. I love the graphic–birds out of their cages! Fantastic!

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