Placing young readers smack-dab at the center of the action—and in control of the plot twists, the Choose Your Own Adventure series found an eager audience when Bantam launched the first of these paperbacks back in 1979. Between that year and 1998, that company released more than 180 books in the series, which reached an in-print tally of more than 250 million copies and were published in 38 languages. Now Chooseco, a publisher based in a Vermont farmhouse, is giving this generation’s middle-graders the chance to choose their own adventures, as it reissues the series in updated editions.
Chooseco is a fitting home for the CYOA series, since its co-publisher, R.A. Montgomery, was the creator of the original series. He initially signed a six-book contract with Bantam and went on to write some 60 adventures. When the series went out of print in 2003, Montgomery (who owns the rights to 141 of the novels) decided to resurrect the series under Chooseco, which he founded in 2004 with his wife and co-publisher, Shannon Gilligan.
The first of the revised editions, which feature new covers with foil, embossing and new interior art, were released in spring 2006. And they seem to have struck a chord with today’s readers: Chooseco reports that there are 900,000 copies in print of the 18 novels released to date. The series is sold by the company’s own sales force in the U.S. and in Canada and through a partnership with Scholastic in Australia and New Zealand.
Gilligan explains that she and Montgomery, aided by a team of consulting editors, reviewed each of the original CYOA titles to determine which ones they would revive. “We wanted to select those that had been bestsellers and those we thought had special editorial merit,” she says. Though the substance of each plot remains true to the original, some information has been updated. “The stories are set all over the world,” says Montgomery. “And some take place in countries where the political situation has changed through revolutions or civil wars. We’ve changed the novels to depict that new reality.” The new books also make mention of such contemporary items as GPS devices, personal computers and cell phones.
Reflecting on the success of the CYOA series, Montgomery notes that the concept is based on “the paradigm of interactiveness that involves behavioral stimulation, problem solving and game theory. The reader plays a key role, doing the critical thinking and decision making that lead to different endings. Almost everyone who reads these books goes back to the beginning after reaching an ending, wondering what would have happened differently if they had made other decisions. It’s a very powerful tool for teaching as well as entertaining.”
Also distinguishing the series, Montgomery adds, is the fact that the books are not gender-specific, since the reader plays the role of the hero. “We have discovered that the gender split among the readers of these books is amazingly close,” he remarks. “More girls read the books by only one or two percentage points. The series really seems to be hooking boys and, we hope, helping them to develop a lifelong love of reading.”
Gilligan says that one of the reasons she and Montgomery decided to reissue the series was to “expand on the concept and explore the interactive paradigm further.” To this end, Chooseco has created two additional series. Due in May are the first four releases in the younger Choose Your Own Adventure Dragonlarks series, aimed at readers ages 5-8, which will feature full-color art throughout. And scheduled to debut in the fall is Choose Your Own Adventure: The Golden Path, an illustrated, interactive seven-book fantasy epic starring eight continuing characters. These young adult novels will be packaged with collectible cards, which will also be sold separately in packs.
Chooseco is supporting its revamped CYOA series with promotional materials for retailers, including a floor display, shelf talker and bookmarks that can be cut into thirds to help kids mark multiple pages as they navigate their journeys through the novels. Also available is a bookseller’s guide to the series, detailing themes and reading and interest levels for various titles. And the publisher has created a counter display for Dragonlarks.
The publisher is also taking advantage of new technology to boost kids’ interest in choosing their own adventures. Now available on the company’s Web site is a feature enabling readers to access additional endings to the novels. To find these endings, kids must successfully complete computer games entailing memory tests, pattern puzzles and the like. Since the online endings component was launched in October, traffic on the Web site has reportedly increased more than 300%.
And as of last week, the company has made its first CYOA title, The Abominable Snowman, available as an iPod audiobook download. Narrated by Montgomery, this audiobook enables children to use their iPods to select various paths through the story while viewing color illustrations and hearing sound effects. The download, which is available through the company’s on-line store, will be free of charge until January 26. Gilligan reports that the audiobook, which was posted on the site on January 11, had 1600 downloads in the first three days.
But Chooseco has hardly abandoned its original mission. In addition to its new series, the company will bring out six additional CYOA titles this year, including Montgomery’s Forecast from Stonehenge, the first brand-new novel to be published since 1998. Given the publisher’s quickly expanding roster of releases, that’s a lot of adventure to choose from.