Kiwi's superhero novel flies off the virtual shelves
Wed, 11 Apr 2012 4:59a.m.
By Dan Satherley
What would happen if a superhero instead of fighting crime, put their efforts into solving a global issue like poverty?
That's the premise behind Mr Something, the self-published debut novel from Hamilton author Jay Baker which has been tearing up the Amazon bestseller charts.
Released just last month, Baker decided to drum up some publicity by giving the e-book version of Mr Something away for free over the Easter break. More than 5000 downloads later, he's now waiting to see if the word-of-mouth generated will turn into sales.
"I'd say it'll probably take a few weeks at least, because people will need to actually finish reading it, and then have a chance to tell their friends," says Baker.
Mr Something is the story of a man, Isaac, who finds a belt which gives him super powers – but also brings him to the attention of the powers-that-be, who see its potential as a weapon.
Isaac's first inclination is, like most superheroes before him, to don a mask and costume and fight some crime. But…
"That fails horribly because in real life when you go out and try and fight crime, you don't just run across supercriminals running around doing bad things all over the place," says Baker.
"He meets this girl that he used to know back in school, and she's been travelling around the world and been to Africa and seen all this stuff. She talks to him about it and he gets the idea that this would be a great thing for a superhero to do, because it's not like you have to wait around and wait for a crime to happen – every day thousands of children are dying because of starvation and disease."
Baker got the idea after watching a typical Hollywood superhero film and realising "they never actually do anything useful".
"Wouldn't it be cool if one actually attacked some real-world problem? It kind of developed from there… and it ended up as a novel."
A timely one too, with interest in African affairs recently sparked by the infamous Kony2012 film – which like Mr Something, was also published and promoted via the internet.
"A key focus of the book is on not just pouring more aid money into Africa, but getting the politics right," says Baker, who blames "bad government and wars" for the continent's poverty.
"I did a lot of research for the book, and the solutions proposed – while being adapted for a superhero – could work in real life."
Baker hasn't been to Africa himself, but in the past has done volunteer work for World Vision, sponsored children and even spent some of his childhood living in Papua New Guinea.
The novel is Baker's first, and was self-published through Amazon's CreateSpace service. He did try going through a traditional publisher, but says Mr Something's non-traditional content made it a difficult sell.
"Both my agent and the publishers he presented the manuscript to were impressed with the writing, characters, and plotting, but they were very wary of the unusual theme," says Baker.
"It was kind of in the action/adventure category I guess, but because it was talking about poverty in Africa, from their point of view it didn't suit that market because it was outside of the normal you know, political thriller, or 'Nazi gold' sort of thing."
Unwilling to completely rewrite the book, after a year of waiting – and a bit of polishing – he decided to publish it himself, and it's a decision he doesn't regret.
"With a traditionally-published book you might keep 10 percent, and 15 percent of that 10 percent would go to your agent, whereas with the Kindle books, I get 70 percent and the paperback books I get something less than that – 30 percent or something," says Baker.
"Self-publishing allows you a whole lot more control, so you can keep the story the way you want – you don't have to change it to suit an editor's viewpoint of what should or should not be in a book, which is good from a story point of view… and also, you can do your own covers and keep your own title."
Baker also says if anyone spots a mistake in the book, he can have it updated within days, "whereas with a traditional publisher, basically you publish it and that's it".
The trade off is that self-publishing via the internet is becoming increasingly popular, and it can be hard to stand out from the crowd.
"I think once you were successful, then you'd definitely want to keep [self-publishing], because it's that first bit of actually getting noticed which is where people would fall down.
"Once you've got noticed, then self-publishing allows you to keep more of that money that you get."
The internet also came in handy when writing the book. Baker says he wanted the locations in Mr Something to be authentic, so made use of Google Earth in scouting out suitable spots.
"As the plot developed, I'd get an idea of what sort of location I wanted for a particular scene, and I found I could actually just look up and find a matching location," says Mr Baker.
"At the start I wanted a university town in the States near a pine forest – I actually managed to look up that and find one, and then using Google Earth you can actually – because it gives you the 3D view as well – you can actually find a mountain and zoom down and spin around that mountain, so you can see as if you were standing on top of that mountain, you can see everything that you'd see as if you were there."
Baker has already begun work on a second novel, but as he has had to return to full-time work to keep his "favourite wife in the manner to which she has become accustomed", whether it's released any time soon could depend on the success of his first.
But now that he's written one, he's got the bug.
"It's quite a weird thing really, I just kind of started doing it, and it kind of snowballed," says Baker.
"I really enjoyed it so it was easy to keep doing."
Order the paperback or e-book from Amazon
Mr Something official website
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(Won't be published)
11/04/2012 9:27:40 a.m.
I love that people can do this now, and that a lad from provincial NZ has makes me feel very warm and fuzzy.
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