Parallel publishing: IF and Novel

I’ve been writing stories for a while now, but I’m by no means any sort of professional. I have several partially-completed novels, and I’m approaching IF as an alternate medium and a potential creativity/motivational tool.

Those of you that have done both novels and IF (or just have ideas about them), how do you reconcile the two, or do you?

What I mean is this: have you ever written a novel and then later an IF tie-in, or vice-versa? Or perhaps written an IF and then produced a novelization of it?

  1. Do you think that, for a given story, there’s value in producing it in both mediums?

  2. If so, which do you tend to do first?

  3. Do publishers have a problem with this? Have you ever been forced/asked to take down an IF version of a novel you’ve published? Or do you just “bundle them together”?

  4. Do you think readers, having experienced the one, get value from experiencing the other afterwards? What might you do to ensure that?

The most prominent example of this is Max Gladstone, who has published a series of fantasy novels and also two Choice Of Games works in the same setting. He talks about it in this interview: … -universe/

In general book publishers won’t have anything to say about game publishing and vice versa – they’re different industries.

Thanks Zarf, excellent article.

My gut instinct is to say that if a story can flop back and forth between being traditional or interactive fiction, then it’s probably not refined enough. There should be a good reason for something to be interactive; ditto for something to be a novel. The best text games I’ve played would never work as books.

In my mind, a novel would represent a singular path through an IF story, in which all the choices were the ones that fulfilled the novel’s narrative requirements.

But I get what you’re saying. In that respect I would consider IF for more of a tie-in story than necessarily replicating the novel itself. A way for the reader to learn more about the setting, world, and its inhabitants.

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Tangent: do you know The Night Circus? It’s a Storynexus work based on the book by Erin Morgenstern - so might be relevant to see how IF can be used to complement a work of static fiction.

I was just going to bring that up!

Funny you should ask…

Five years ago I wrote the first novel of a planned young adult steampunk Australia trilogy.

Last year I discovered IF (via Choice of Games) and wrote “Attack of the Clockwork Army” (and various others, including another IF set in the same world).

Now I’m caught in an epic tangle of plotlines across a variety of art forms.

The best way to read things is:

  1. The novel “Heart of Brass” in which British girl Emmeline Muchamore is transported as a convict to Australia where she escapes and ultimately joins in a particular historical event (which is altered into steampunk fantasy in the novel).

  2. “After the Flag Fell” - which is “on paper” IF for the Windhammer Prize (why yes, I won first place thankyouverymuch) which tells the story of a specific character from the final chapter of #1 until his death.

  3. “Attack of the Clockwork Army” at Hosted Games, which begins when one of Emmeline’s siblings discovers she’s been transported (rather than executed, as he/she was told) and goes to Australia to join her. - The player needs to choose to play as a Muchamore sibling, or the game is altered into a slightly different story.

#2 and #3 both follow the character/s basically to the end of their life, so they effectively happen simultaneously. (A right mess for a reader trying to be chronological - not to mention the fact that all the above were published in reverse chronological order!)

I have a “canon” version of #2 and #3 in my head (which probably weakens them as IF). I also have a blog category just for updates on the ever-expanding “series”. … a-stories/

#3 is heavy with the weight of past grief (from the novel), which I think is a significant flaw. I wrote it partly because I thought it would be SO AWESOME as a reader to read a novel and then “join in” by having an interactive sequel. I also thought the two markets would cross-pollinate - IF fans would be more likely to read the book, and people ignorant of IF would be sucked in by the gateway drug of the novel (cue evil laughter). I still think there’s some value there.

To try and ameliorate the effect of spoilers, I had two versions of each character in “Attack of the Clockwork Army”. Players who choose “Muchamore” characters get the book version (and everyone else gets a slightly different version of the tale). I think this was a band-aid solution, AND it caused a bunch of confusion. Fundamentally, people + non-intuitive instructions = chaos. But the three people who get everything right are gonna love it.

I’m lucky enough in my choice of publisher for “Heart of Brass” ( to have someone who enjoys author contributions - so “After the Flag Fell” will actually be included with the novel. (I have the necessary permissions, and I’ve already been paid money for it too, so I’m pretty pleased with that.)

Things I’ve learned:

  1. The publication process for books averages about ten times as long as that for IF (5 years for novels compared to 1/2 year for IF after the product is finished and polished). This makes chronological stuff super tricky - much better to share a setting but NOT overlap characters or plot at all.

  2. They are most certainly different industries, and each work REALLY needs to stand alone.

  3. There will probably be a handful of people who enjoy hopping in and out of novels/IF… but most people would find it seriously disorienting.

  4. On the other hand, people who love IF also love fiction. They are, fundamentally, readers. Readers are always attracted to something that they trust to be good (an author name, a character name, or a setting). Readers are awesome. Always.

I happen to be writing an IF prequel right now (in a completely different engine yet again), with no overlapping characters or plot (although I tell myself the PC is Emmeline’s ancestor because it amuses me). So clearly I’ve learned nothing (except that I like my steampunk magic world and I want to keep writing stuff in that setting). At least it doesn’t have any backstory that needs to be shoehorned in!

When my publisher innocently asks me, “So, about the second novel?” my head will most likely explode.

PS What’s that you say? You want to know more about the novel? It’s coming out very soon (a month or so) and it has a draft book trailer (the cover isn’t finished yet!) at

It’ll be available in print and digital forms when it comes out.

To me it is quite the opposit of what you are saying.
A story only follows a linier path from start to finish whereas an IF allows you to wonder away and explore the areas that the story glosses over.

An IF should allow you to follow that character through that story to reach the end, but finding out more about the world around them.
(and just for kicks, have different divergent point that a reader can discover if they do certain things.)

I am going to give you completely different advice, and I’m coming at this as someone who has only had experience with traditional publishing and fiction (and not game development). I have my MFA in fiction, and I’ve published 5 books. I am a full-time writer. Oh, and take all of this with a grain of salt because the publishing world changes on a weekly basis.

My sense of the industry is that it has preferred methods of movement. Book goes to comic book (for instance, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series), but comic book rarely goes to novel. Comic book goes to television show or movie more often than movie goes to comic book (the exception would be movies or shows that develop huge fandoms). And book goes to games, but games rarely go to book.

I think creative publishers (meaning, anyone outside the Big 5) are looking for interesting ways to connect book to audience. Creating interactive versions of books or app tie-ins has been an idea being floated through the publishing world for the last few years. The ability to do it yourself is a huge boost because it means less money expended by the publisher in terms of their initial investment. For a certain publisher, this sort of thing would be a tipping point for a platform. For others, not so much.

I have zero ability to help with game publication, but the book world/publishing world is a place where I know my way around, and I am always happy to answer any questions, provide any connections, or help with anything in that regard. That goes for everyone here on this board.

I know Jeff Vandermeer had an IF piece done for The Southern Reaches. I don’t know how well it did or even if it’s still up.

Then there’s Black Crown, which Failbetter Games worked on, and which was a StoryNexus project in conjunction with Random House. Very weird but a lot of fun. Or ‘fun.’

Black Crown was so original and daring…right up Failbetter’s alley, but could be so oppressively disturbing (suffocating in rubber suits, gruesome body horror and sickness as gameplay) that I wonder if they would have had better success with something a little more mainstream out the gate followed by Black Crown.

(I know I’m Monday-morning quarterbacking and I don’t know inside details; I probably wanted Storynexus to succeed and become hugely popular as much as anyone.)