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Story of success for a small town publisher

Shannon-copyWords // Lettie Stratton
Photos // Chooseco LLC

There are several things you might already know about the small town of Waitsfield, Vermont. Rock diva Grace Potter hails from here, for example. And on a more sobering note, the town was frequently in the news after it was hit hard by 2011’s Hurricane Irene. But what you may not know about Waitsfield is that it is also home to Chooseco LLC, publisher of the wildly popular Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook series.

Chooseco was started by R.A. Montgomery and his wife Shannon Gilligan in 2003. “Ray was the original series publisher and one of its first authors way back in 1976,” said Gilligan, who is the current publisher. Choose Your Own Adventure was re-launched commercially by Chooseco in 2005, and has since released new titles and even optioned the series film rights to Fox Films.

The books, written in the second person, give “you,” the reader, the power to make decisions throughout the story that affect the narrative and, in turn, the ending. “There’s a lower intimidation factor created by a book that doesn’t demand you read all of it and in fact encourages you to read in a more exploratory, nonlinear way,” said Gilligan. The books aim to help readers develop decision-making skills through the strong interactive narratives. “This compulsive re-readability of the books is what drove the early success of the series,” said Gilligan. “It’s also always fascinated me that their popularity arose at same time as the personal computer.  There was a large cultural shift going on.  Choose was part of that.”

The popularity of eReaders, online book buying from powerhouses like Amazon, and the overall trend toward a paperless society from print to web has greatly changed the publishing industry, and those who have survived the change have had to quickly adapt to the new era. “There are new technologies which make particular sense for an interactive brand that did not exist during the series’ first run,” said Gilligan. “Chooseco has a long history of working with versus against technological change. The stories were adapted for early computer and gaming systems, and we continue to be interested in new ways of porting our content onto new devices.”

New devices are one thing, but Chooseco isn’t looking to find itself a new home amongst the bigwig publishers anytime soon. The decision to stay rooted in Vermont is a deliberate one. “There are definitely challenges to a city job that exists in the country, but there’s also a lot of benefits to be had in that contrast,” explained Gilligan.

And Chooseco doesn’t have to be in New York City to reach its enthusiastic and dedicated audience. “Much of the success of the company has been due to the power of the brand and its loyal fan base, who really view Choose Your Own Adventure as an important part of their childhood mindset, whether they are eight or 38,” Gilligan said. “We hope to continue making quality children’s literature, and also see what else this brand and company can do—the possibilities really feel infinite right now.”