Appeal Versus Originality

Recently, I’ve been getting some early feedback on my final draft of “Camp Ferguson”, and much of it has given me cause to feel pretty good. Those who have read it seem to really enjoy the book, even to the extent of calling a better effort than the first one I published. While I’m quite flattered in that respect, as it’s a much better reaction than I expected, one thing that some readers have noted is making me think: the problem of audience appeal.

“Camp Ferguson” was designed as a satire on the entire fantasy genre, but mostly the Harry Potter series, as is evident by the common theme of young-adult wizards running around and going on adventures. In my book, however, the characters are college-aged (think at least 17 or 18 in this first book of the series), and as such one of the changes I made to the formula was upping the humor and content found in the story to a bit more of a mature level. This was done both to satisfy my sense of humor, which can be a bit more adult at times, and also to add more depth and authenticity to the story. For example, here’s one such passage in brief:

“Wait a minute,” said Tessa, her blue eyes widening. “Did you say all of us are suspects?”

“That’s right,” said Jack, folding his hands and pacing back and forth before them on the carpet. “I narrowed it down from everyone in camp to all of you. It took a lot of work, believe me.”

“How did the undercover stuff go, then?” 

Jack blinked. 

“Huh? Oh, right. Yeah. I’ve been under the covers a lot in the past few days, for sure.” Seeing Tessa raise an eyebrow at him, he coughed. “Umm–you know, investigating things.”

Not to explain the obvious, but the implication here is that Jack has been sleeping around while he was supposed to be investigating a crime (long story). Of course, this kind of material may not be suitable for all age groups, especially those who probably start reading Harry Potter when they’re about 13 or 14. Up until this point, I’ve considered my audience for this book to be aimed primarily at the young adult or adult crowd, meaning probably 17 or 18 and up, the same as my story’s characters. But from feedback I’ve gotten so far, people seem to think that if I were to take out the more mature and PG-13 parts like this one and tone things down a bit, I could have just as good of a story that could be marketed to a wider audience, and thus be more successful overall.

Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about this, and I could use some input. On one hand, I certainly want as many people to read my books as possible, and broadening the audience sounds on the face of it like a great idea. It probably wouldn’t be that hard to do, either: I’d have to change a few passages and take out some profanity, but nothing integral to the plot. On the other hand, though, I feel like doing that might compromise the originality of the work itself. Sure, I know there’s no such thing as an original idea anymore, really, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve used a lot of different sources and ideas in other media kind of cobbled together to create this work. But in many ways, I feel its adult orientation and focus is the defining quality of “Camp Ferguson” when compared to other books in its genre. Can I justify taking out the mature content when without it, I think people might be more inclined to just dismiss it as a bad knockoff of Harry Potter or similar works?

Perhaps I’m not putting enough faith in my abilities as a writer or the strength of the story I’ve created to stand on its own. But I just can’t help having these doubts. So if anyone has some perspective they’d like to share on this, I’d love to know what you think.

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