The books were a success. Bantam, which later became a division of Random House, acquired the franchise, and between 1979 and 1999 published 184 titles in the original series and almost 100 additional spin-off titles. It's unclear how many are circulating at this point. Per CYOA.com, "Over 250 million books were printed in 38 languages, making Choose Your Own Adventure the fifth best-selling book series of all time. Only Harry Potter, Enid Blyton, and Goosebumps have sold more books."
After Random House abandoned the CYOA trademark, Montgomery registered it, founding Chooseco, a small publisher focused on republishing the original books and also creating new ones. (In a piece on CYOA in Slate in 2011, Grady Hendrix reported, "Packard and Montgomery had a falling out and are no longer on speaking terms, but each continues to fly the interactive-fiction flag.") As for that 250 million figure, they disagree as well: Packard says it's "wildly inflated" and he'd guess 40 million of the classics are out there, while Chooseco Publisher Shannon Gilligan told The Atlantic Wire that since that number came out, there've been another 5 million put in print, so it's more like 255 million, along with being published in 43 languages in the past 30 years.
Packard is now working on an adult novel and told the Wire he's not interested in writing more interactive books in the CYOA-genre. Over the past few years, however, he's revised, expanded, and adapted three of his orignal CYOA books for release as U-Ventures apps at the iTunes store. "Of course there's a lot you can do in this format that you can't do in a printed book," he says. "There is no limit to the number of pages, so in a scene where you are swimming, trying to get to shore, you can keep swiping pages and you only encounter more scenes of the sea. Your frustration and uncertainty mimic what you'd feel in reality. In one scene you have to make a repair on our spaceship and the computer says there will be a catastrophic failure in 20 seconds. The reader has to solve the problem in real time: The countdown of time remaining is shown on the screen. We have light and sound effects. The computer remembers where you've been, which can affect what you know and what happens when you reach a certain locale and if and when you come back to it." (Simon & Schuster have been releasing print versions of the apps since March.)
Gilligan and Montgomery, however, are keeping primarily to print. "It took a while for us to figure out why digital editions made the interactive reading experience worse. It has something mysterious to do with tactile involvement in making choices as 'You the hero...'" says Gilligan. However, they are rolling out books in some technologically advanced formats: "We have just adapted one of the books for younger readers, Your Very Own Robot, as an interactive cartoon meant to be played on a tablet. We are also in the process of slowly rolling out the books on eReaders in a way that we think finally works. CYOA on the early generations of Kindle was not a beautiful thing." They continue to publish traditionally as their main business, however, and during a 2007 relaunch of old titles put forward some new books as well. "The interest and passion for the interactive paradigm seems undimmed," says Gilligan. "People love being at the center of the story making decisions. Obviously tons of adults who grew up on them are buying them for their own children. As for new themes, does a zombie title count?"
But the formula and plot lines of the old CYOAs are not just fodder for nostalgia. Of course there's nostalgia, enough for Jonah Peretti to create a Choose-Your-Own Adventure Twitter
thread back in 2010. But a look back at some of the books reminds us, also, of the power they gave us as kids, to make some unprecedented choices, for once in our young lives! Also, they were plain and simple kind of awesome, fast-paced reads. Take the opening to House of Danger:
It is a Tuesday afternoon in late June. You are on your way down to your lab in your parents' basement when the phone rings. You dash into the lab and pick it up.
"I need, I need..." says a weak voice. You hear a loud click, and the phone goes dead.
What do you do? Turn the page.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.