Twitter, tweets and twains … er … trains (and a free e-book!)

CabooseI’ve been on the Twitter Train for seven years and until a couple of months ago, it was just a caboose. I followed mostly news sources, and rarely posted, liked or retweeted.

Then I published “Embracing Hope.” Social media is a vital marketing tool for authors so I waded deeper into the pool—or to continue the railroading theme—added an engine and a couple of rail cars, and picked up speed.

I started out earlier this year with about 30 followers, followed another 30, and had less than 200 tweets. I now have over 126 followers, follow over 300, and have posted over 530 tweets—the numbers increase daily. ** I’m intentional in “liking”, retweeting, acknowledging follows and retweets; posting my own tweets using links, hashtags, and photos; studying trends; and pursuing more followers.

And I’m about to derail as I keep adding rail cars but not enough engines. I’ve studied up on how to increase followers, maintain lists, and schedule tweets, only to be inundated with advice and recommendations, some contradictory. Perhaps once I get accustomed to the curves and angles of Twitter’s rail bed I can add engines so the train operates efficiently.

RR signEach time I follow someone, find out I’m being followed or post a tweet, one question keeps crossing my mind much like signs before a railroad crossing: How do people with thousands of followers, following thousands, and grinding out thousands of tweets, likes and RTs do it without losing their mind?

Social media virtual assistants, that’s how. The railroading version is a switch, which guides a train from one track to another—such as at a junction or where a spur branches off—when there are too many trains on the track.

I’m a long way from needing a switch. But my confidence got a wee boost a few days ago when I connected with someone who had smaller numbers. Boy, did I feel experienced! And I was intent to encourage her. But I bet she’ll surpass me quickly and need one of those switches. Oh, well, in the meantime, I’ll do my best riding the Cannonball trying not to derail.

TrainChallenge: If you can identify the Cannonball, email me at by Wednesday, March 22, 2017, and if you’re right, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a free ebook of “Embracing Hope.”

** Disclaimer: I hear the giggles from seasoned Twitter moguls seeing my stats. But remember, you started at this level, too. 🙂

Fly, birdies, fly away

cardinal-nest-photoI don’t have children so I’m unfamiliar with what it’s like to push those I dearly love and have protected for years out of the nest. I don’t understand the apprehension, loneliness, and heartache parents experience when their kids set out on their own for college, careers, and marriage.

But then again, as an author, maybe I do. Last fall, I sent my three oldest kids—Drew, Allison and Chris—into the intimidating literary world. Tearfully (really!) I relinquished them to my publisher who prepped them and launched them on their way. I’ve had sleepless nights: Was it too soon? Had I done enough to ensure they’d survive on their own? Would they eventually achieve success, or run back home to hide in the basement?

I’ve become a possessive and restless mother lion wanting to protect her cubs from bad reviews, poor sales, and getting along in a jungle full of other cubs. They might be rebuffed, ridiculed, or worse yet, recycled!

I miss getting inside my kids’ brains to see what makes them tick, and being a part of their daily lives to share their joys and console them when they hurt. I no longer have the opportunity to shape their characters, find solutions to their problems, or offer them advice.

I had to spend a lot of time and energy disciplining one of my kids, Chris, so hopefully he’s learned something and will keep on the straight and narrow. The other two, Drew and Allison, have been through a lot of sadness and scary times, but I’ve seen their strength and know they will do well on their own. I’ve been relieved to hear early reports that all three are finding their way. Maybe all that work—a labor of love—is paying off. I look forward to see what they do with their futures.

Now I need to focus on the other kids. Ivy is the most mature, but then girls do mature faster than boys. Hannah and Nathan are dealing with baggage from previous relationships so I’m waiting for them to lighten their loads. Micah and Lindsey are the youngest and need special nurturing, which take time. And Renee is a twinkle in my eye who I know has great potential—once I figure out what that potential is.

So, yes, I feel like a parent who has let her birds leave the nest. The only thing I can do for my “triplets” is to keep praying that God will bless them and bless the people they meet along the way.


Of ice and men … and a free book

I never played hockey. No one in my immediate family played hockey. In fact, no one in my immediate family knows much about the game. But thanks to my husband and 24 years of going to college hockey games I can proudly admit that I LOVE hockey.

My favorite team is the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team. We’ve had season tickets for years, so our date nights from October-March are often to Mariucci Arena on the U of M campus. The arena might be a wee bit chilly, but that’s part of the charm. Once you get 9,000 warm bodies in the arena to cheer on a dozen players speeding up and down the ice you warm up.

The first games I saw confounded me. I never saw the puck. All I saw was a bunch of over-stuffed uniforms moving like ants whacking at the ice with sticks and ramming each other into the boards with resounding thuds. I only knew a goal was scored when the arena exploded in cheers and the players jumped on each other in celebration. I never understood the penalties. I never made out plays.

Slowly things began to change. I recognized player and coach names. I learned terms like checking, high-sticking, penalty-kill, power play, icing, hat trick. I knew that North Dakota was the enemy on the ice. And best of all, I saw plays taking shape on the ice and the puck going into the net as a result.

In 2002, I knew enohockey-frameugh about hockey to thoroughly appreciate the luck of the draw when we got tickets to the NCAA Frozen Four championship in St. Paul. When we applied to get the tickets we had no idea that the U of M team would be there. But not only did they get into the Frozen Four, they won the NCAA title. And we were there! (Proof is the framed display on the wall of our home office.)

Since then I’ve had a love affair with hockey. My family back in Iowa think it’s strange since I grew up cheering on high school football and basketball teams. But after living in Minnesota all these years, hockey fever was bound to catch up with me.

So why am I writing about hockey on my “Embracing Hope” blog? Because a couple of weeks ago an idea popped into my head as I sat in Mariucci Arena: A sequel about a hockey player and a fashion entrepreneur. If you’ve read “Embracing Hope” you might find one of the characters. If you haven’t read it yet, but want to figure it out, email me at and I’ll enter you in a drawing to win a free copy of “Embracing Hope.” Deadline to enter is March 1.

Embrace marketing; hope for success

embracing_hope_bookmarkGrrooaann! I’m so tired of seeing my photo and “Embracing Hope’s” book cover all over the internet. I’m certain my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn followers feel the same way. They probably have “had it” with my self-promotion, which is day after day, week after week. Marketing oneself is compulsory in the book publishing biz. I knew that going in, but the guilt of inflicting that injury ad nauseum on people was unexpected.

Social media is key in getting my name out to the millions of readers of Christian romance fiction. Who knows where a social media post will end up? How many will see it? How many will act on it? I get some idea from social media analytics (a fancy word for stats). My author’s Facebook page tracks reach, engagement, page views, and page likes. My blog includes views and location demographics. Twitter keeps track of followers, retweets and likes, and LinkedIn logs views and likes. The numbers so far are small potatoes (more like peas) compared to those who have thousands of likes, page views and retweets. The reach stat on my author’s Facebook posts have ranged from five (pathetic) to 281 (substantial for me, one level above pathetic by FB standards). Comments, shares and reactions have been mostly single digits or even worse, zero.

But last week something shifted. An online link I posted on my author’s Facebook page about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday got a lot of reaches (number of people the posts were served to). The post reached 1,044 and got 84 comments, shares and reactions. It was interesting to watch the numbers climb so quickly. Where did all those reaches come from? Oh, yeah, I forgot—the Internet is public and Wilder was definitely trending that week. Still, I wonder about the demographic of those reached: probably female, over 40, rural, readers and writers, literature academics, history buffs. While the post wasn’t about “Embracing Hope”, it was on my Facebook page that showcases the novel. The goal of driving people to my page worked.

Bottom line, my name and “Embracing Hope” are getting out there, which helps marketing and thus, sales. For those of you tired of me tooting my own horn, just breeze by my posts that don’t interest you, like you do the political posts. I won’t be insulted. But, please don’t unfollow, unfriend, disconnect or shoot down my tweets because I’d miss you!



Laura Ingalls Wilder – The Iowa Story

In Honor of the 150th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Say the name Laura Ingalls Wilder and it conjures up images of homesteading families settling—and struggling—on the grassy wide-open prairies in the 1870-80s. (It also conjures up images of the long-running TV show, but I won’t go there.)

I read Wilder’s “Little House” series over and over as a child, and even do as an adult. Almost every winter I pull out “The Long Winter” to help me fully appreciate the “grueling” winters I’ve lived through, compared to the one when Laura’s family practically starved and children were almost lost in a raging blizzard after leaving school on foot. Over the years, I collected books about her life and the places she lived. I crossed Plum Creek on a foot bridge and Walnut Grove in Minnesota, which seemed more enamored with the TV series than the author.

The Missing Link
burr-oak-hotelAs an Iowa farm girl, what appealed most to me was Laura’s brief time spent in Burr Oak, Iowa. It’s a gap in her story as she never published a book about it, although there is an unfinished unpublished manuscript. The story of their time in Burr Oak falls between “On the Banks of Plum Creek” and “By the Shores of Silver Lake.” The family struggled financially and emotionally while in Burr Oak, which historians think may be why Laura didn’t publish the book. The lone bit of happiness came when Grace was born there.

In 1876, after grasshoppers completely destroyed the Ingallses’ wheat crop in Minnesota, the family decided to move to Burr Oak, located in northeast Iowa just south of the Minnesota border. Laura was nine at the time. William Steadman, a family acquaintance who owned Masters hotel, wanted the Ingalls family to help run it. Tragically, on the way to Burr Oak, Laura’s nine-month-old brother, Freddie, became seriously ill and died. He was buried near Zumbro Falls, Minnesota, and the mourning family had to continue on.

At first, the Ingalls family lived at the hotel in a small basement room across from the kitchen. They helped cook, clean and complete daily chores. Mary and Laura waited tables, did dishes, and watched the Steadman’s young son when they weren’t in school. Rooms at the Masters hotel rented for 25 cents a night. Guests either shared a bed with two other people or slept on the floor.

The family moved out of the hotel to rooms over Kimball’s Grocery, which was next door to a saloon. Pa didn’t like the work at the hotel, so he became a partner in a grist mill. When spring came, he sold his interest in the mill and did odd jobs on farms in the area, often working away from home. Pa didn’t like Ma and the girls staying alone all day next to a saloon, so he rented a house from Mr. Bisby, a wealthy hotel boarder, just outside of town.

But Pa, always the wanderlust, soon wanted to go west again. Ma and the girls longed to return to their friends in Walnut Grove. So in the summer of 1877, less than a year after moving to Burr Oak, the Ingalls family returned to Minnesota, closing a short unhappy chapter in their lives.

Burr Oak is Laura’s only childhood home still on its original site. The hotel is now a museum.






When the media comes calling

I’ve been featured in newspaper articles just twice in my life, 30 years apart. I’m not talking about the thousands of times my byline preceded articles, photos, columns or editorials, or news releases where my name and contact info came after “For more information.” I’m talking about a newspaper reporter interviewing me and writing an article.

The first article was in 1987. Do the names Senator Gary Hart and Donna Rice ring a bell? If they do, congratulations! Consider yourself politically astute. For those who never heard of them (or were born after 1987), Gary Hart was a front-runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination until he dropped out in May 1987 over allegations of an extramarital affair with Donna Rice, a beauty pageant winner/actress/campaign aide.

I won’t go into the details of the allegations; no one cares anymore. At the time of the salacious political scandal that dominated the media, I was editor of the Charles City (Iowa) Press, a Monday-Friday weekly. Our office always had a TV on monitoring the local and national news. We learned that Hart was scheduled to hold a press conference to talk about his campaign. To localize the story, I had talked to the county leadership of the GOP and Democratic parties prior to the news conference about what to expect.

And so we watched the news conference while staring down a looming press deadline. It became apparent that Hart would drop out of the race. A news staff member changed the TV channel as I summed up Hart’s comments, plugged in the appropriate quotes, finished the article to meet the deadline, and the presses literally rolled.

The only problem was, we turned the channel too soon as Sen. Hart did not pull out of the campaign, which I learned after the papers had been printed and delivered to the post office. I wanted the floor of the newspaper office to open up and swallow me with the tonnage of the offset press on top of me. Worse yet, my error—the most basic of journalism mistakes—made state news.

The Des Moines Register’s Chuck Offenburger, who wrote the wildly popular “Iowa Boy” column back then, weighed in on my faux pas. But it wasn’t a cutting article written about the public goof of the stupid editor of a small town newspaper, it was a column written to comfort an embarrassed young professional. I didn’t keep the column and I have no recollection of what he said. I just remember the headline helped sooth my self-inflicted wound of humiliation: “Ah, hang in there, Jan Butler.”

I don’t remember the fall-out in the office or with readers (psychological block?), but I did not lose my job. In fact, my article turned out to be a prediction as a few days later Hart, overwhelmed by the scandal, did withdraw from the race.

This is the first time I’ve ever talked about my journalistic gaffe of 1987. I barely said anything to my family and best friends when it happened, and they knew enough not to ask. It’s been in the recesses of my mind for 30 years.

Until Friday, Jasunfocus1n. 27, 2017, the day the second article was published. But this one wasn’t about a humiliated journalist published in a statewide daily newspaper. My novel was featured in a weekly community paper to which I sent out my own news release. I didn’t really like being on the other side of a reporter’s assignment, but it’s all part of the marketing dance. And the article turned out pretty good.

I wonder if Chuck Offenburger would be interested to know what happened to that defeated journalist? Probably not.


Imagine you’re a 10-year-old boy…

Imagine waking up one morning, putting on a suit and tie (How many 10-year-old boys like that?), taking a seat inside a bullet-proof black SUV, arriving at a mammoth imposing structure amid controlled chaos, walking among tall bulky men in black suits packing guns in their holsters and stoic military personnel. You are the only child among hundreds of strangers, save for a precious few family.

Double doors swing open to a gray, damp day. There before this 10-year-old boy are hundreds of thousands of people. They are yelling, cheering, booing, and waving signs. Their faces and the words on the signs are indistinguishable. Cameras from all over the world zero in on him, some close enough to see the strands of his hair. A deep-voiced MC booms announcements and introductions. It’s dawning on him that he’s not just witnessing history, he’s a part of that history. And he probably knows—or will soon learn—that history often isn’t kind.

Wouldn’t you be a little out of your element? Wouldn’t you refrain from looking out over that throng? Wouldn’t you just hunker down around your family and try to blend into the staging like a chameleon?

Like this boy, I’m an introvert. At age 55 you’d think I’d have outgrown it. Nope. I don’t like to be the center of attention of more than 20 people. I hate public speaking. The idea of even one camera focused on me freaks me out! Heck, I got nerved up doing a phone interview with a young neighborhood newspaper reporter for an article on my novel. I worry about how the article will turn out and what people will think of me. I’m even a little nervous about my book-signings, but most likely I’ll relax and enjoy them and the people I’ll interact with.

That 10-year-old boy relaxed just a smidgen once he adjusted to the overwhelming spectacle. He played peek-a-boo with his baby nephew as cameras rolled and clicked. He smiled a genuine smile and waved as he walked along a parade route. And, being a boy, he seemed particularly pleased with a dozen gargantuan tractors that lumbered slowly past him.

The name of that 10-year is not needed here. As so many people have pleaded, let that kid be a kid and leave him alone. Let him grow up in as much peace and encouragement as possible so he can determine who he wants to be. And accept the fact that he may always be an introvert.