C.D. Houck’s Journey in the Inkfort Press Publishing Derby - Laura Huie

9 Nov 2023

I’m going to get some information dump out of the way here so my journey makes a little more sense. When participating in Inkfort Press Publishing Derby (from here on out will be called “Derby”), there are only three steps you have to remember in order to become a winner of the event:
1. Sign up before the slots fill up (only 100 writers were allowed in 2023)
2. Write 10,000 words for the cover and pen name you got.
3. Publish the 10,000 words (about 40 pages) by the deadline.

Why a pen name? And wait, what is this rule about no money spending?

Those two clauses were actually my biggest appeal, because this meant I could fail – with no strings attached. Dip my toes into something new (okay, I stayed in Fantasy), try marketing and ARC reading without feeling the pressure of the world saying I had to spend money in order to succeed. If this pen name flopped, no one would know it was me, and I spent $0 on this book. This made writing the book fun. I went through over 100 Derby covers and ranked them from not ones I thought were stunning, but which ones I could think of a story for. This is backwards to how I normally write. Its usually writing the story and then making the cover. I resisted the covers I loved and wanted to read, but knew I couldn’t write a story to. Keep in mind you have 100 covers to sort, you might not get your number 1 pick, so don’t start plotting out too much.

Enter challenge number one to writing this story – my spouse. He looked over my shoulder and saw the covers and gave his opinion on them and he fell in love with the cover titled The Sunset Sovereign. He thought it be such a cool story with that title and would “love if I ever wrote a story for him.”

I would never consider myself a romantic, but I put The Sunset Sovereign with the assigned pen name C.D. Houck as my number two option. What were the odds of me getting one of the dragon covers anyways? If I get it, I could figure out the story later.

The Sunset Sovereign: A Dragon's Memoir was originally written under the pen name C.D. Houck

Two days later the cover was assigned to me and I HAD to figure out a story that would be short and complete. I plotted a story that would only be 20k long, about 10 chapters worth. My writing weakness is scenery, so let’s try to keep this story in one spot. That goal was overachieved, the book doubled in size.

As I was writing the story, my main pen name Laura Huie was partaking in SPFBO with Unchosen. In June I started collecting the reviews/star ratings count on all SPFBO9 books. There is a beautiful book called The Sunset Sovereign by E.M. McConnell and just a sweet story. It also has a dragon. I did not want the same title to mix up our books, but one rule of Derby was the title could not change! Fortunately, they were able to give me a subtitle, so I had to think of a good subtitle to go with my story. This is where the A Dragon’s Memoir was added and it helps tell the reader exactly what type of book this is going to be.

Art of Vakandi, by RienkT (https://www.rienkt.com/)

With SPFBO and Derby going on – I was very busy. I am also a parent and its safe to say, being a parent, there is never consistency in your life. It's loveable chaos. Trying to find time to promote C.D. Houck as a writer/author and find time to write the book, was a balancing act. Derby does not allow you to share your book with your family or social circles. This makes the competition equal. With the Twitter/X algorithm changing all the time, and I wasn’t even cutting it on there with my main pen name, I had to go somewhere else. Away from the other Derby contestants too.

Booktok entered in. I couldn’t show my face, I had to learn how to make marketing materials (I have never done a graphic in my life until this summer). I had no clue how to use it. I still don’t. The only goal for TikTok was to engage with readers. Derby was really challenging C.D. Houck to engage with the community, when the only way I knew how to meet readers was saying “hi” to them at the library. How could I secretly talk with readers when I had no name?

Art of Sisal, by RienkT (https://www.rienkt.com/)

Nearing the end of July, I had a draft that grew outside of its original outline with no readers interested in it beyond thinking the art was pretty and title was cool. I got feedback on my blurb (the one on all stores) that it was too short and didn’t say anything about the story. Remember my goals? Learning how to market and get ARCs. There is a nice groove in my desk and pillows from where I hit my head trying to think of something to save this book while entertaining my kids. C.D. Houck was splashing around on shore like a fish out of water. The Sunset Sovereign: A Dragon’s Memoir needed feedback and I did not know how to find it outside of my normal social circle.

The Sunset Sovereign: A Dragon’s Memoir is by no means a LitRPG, but it is a DnD adventure, and if you like any games like Pathfinder or Skyrim, its world will appeal to you. I had to think about where those readers were and the only place I knew was Royal Road. Surely there is someone there who would like my dragon story. I hope… I had little confidence in my dragon fostering a city story and would be happy if it could just have 900 views on it.

Royal Road loved the story, within an hour of posting the story, I received comments and a review that had the best motivator in it.

“Message to the author: please bro don't mess this up, I want to see where this goes.”

Royal Road stats

Their comments on every chapter powered me through the edits. They were giving me advice on how to get more eyes on my story. Three random writers gave me shoutouts that skyrocketed the rank (and my confidence), getting it to multiple Rising Star lists. Fun coincidence, one story who gave me a shout out actually had a dragon main character named Fia in it. There was a bit of destiny, Fia is the main character in my novel The Unchosen. With all the comments coming in I was able to market to Booktok, I could talk about how this story was not like anything else, that it was heartwarming, that it will make you cry, etc. When August arrived, I started doing a callout for ARCs, I actually had people sign up. The goal of learning how to market and get ARCs as a brand-new author succeeded.

C.D. Houck was a success. I joined a group of Derby authors to promote our works in different social circles on a set schedule. This gave me five other books to talk about besides mine and it helped with my content bucket. My ARC team was doing a wonderful job and started posting their reviews, and even commented about it on TikTok. I actually have one TikTok person who is still talking about the book because “Vakandi stole her heart.” Royal Road and Reddit were cheering on my dragon story.

Derby sales started on September 25th and ended on October 25th. We turned in our number of sales and reviews to the moderators and waited to see the results.

Derby Stats

I can now confidently say the following: I am learning how to do ARCs and how to do some marketing. Oh, I can even write an entertaining story. The lessons I learned from starting over with no strings attached gave me a chance to find my voice in writing and spreading the word about my book. These tricks I plan on using with my other works from now on too.

The biggest win about this whole story: my spouse loved the book. It was not the story he had thought it would be, but he definitely enjoyed it, especially seeing his DnD friends get their names in it too.

Did you like what you read? In that case, you can get the book using this link.

About Laura Huie

Laura Huie

I am Laura Huie, originally a chemist who worked in the back of the lab developing all sorts of colors. Now I do back-end programming in dark mode. I currently live in Ohio with my family. I love cooking and baking. I am constantly hitting the keys whether it’s writing my next book, writing a post, or stopping the swarm of zergs that are rushing me. I have no talent with a piano.

You can follow Laura on Substack / Tiktok / Twitter