Lessons from Cheryl Tan: Fashion, Food, and Social Media

Since I am new to Medium, I wanted to share some older stories I’ve written before I get to my new stuff. Let’s start with the one where I interviewed Cheryl Tan.

One of the first people I met when I first moved to NYC was Cheryl Tan. I walked in awkwardly (as I was late) for my first Asian American Journalist Association (yes, a PR guy at a journalist meeting but I was Asian and new to the city) meeting. I bonded with Cheryl, probably because we both had bon chon fried chicken on our minds and worked in fashion at that time.

Since then, she went from food reporter to fashion journalist, and now a successful author and social media junkie. Cheryl was able to share some of her tips on how she used social media to connect with the author community and promote her book successfully, especially since she had to learn everything about the publishing world in just a few short weeks.

But first a little background on Cheryl. Since leaving her post as a full-time staffer at the WSJ in 2008, Cheryl Tan has ventured from a world she jokingly says is deprived of food to a community that only eats. While at the WSJ, Cheryl covered primarily fashion and reported on high-end designers like Marc Jacobs, but now she lives in a world surrounded by other types of writers and social media.

Inspired by positive feedback to her Wall Street Journalfood story that documented her attempts to re-create her grandmother’s traditional pineapple tarts, Cheryl published A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Familyafter her departure from WSJ. The book documents the year she spent traveling between New York City, where she lives, and Singapore, where she grew up.

After the success of A Tiger in the Kitchen, Cheryl prepares to launch her second book Singapore Noir, this Tuesday, June 3. The book is an anthology of dark fiction set in Singapore, “And I’m thrilled to be sharing a rather different side of the country — which many in the West view as squeaky clean, strict, perhaps even sterile — with the world,” Cheryl said regarding Singapore Noir.

Now on to the lessons from Cheryl…

RELATIONSHIPS ARE IMPORTANT

When Cheryl published her first book with Hyperion, the marketing wasn’t always a clear sign of success. She said, “Marketing any book — especially a first book — often is a challenge and unfortunately, my publishing house was going through some tumult at that time. I loved my publicist but she left shortly after Tiger came out, which made the book a bit of an orphan in the publicity department.”

This is a common problem many clients experience (even outside of the publishing industry) when they don’t have a team they can connect with or feel they have support of. Good relationships with your team can also generate passion for a project.

LISTEN TO EXPERIENCED EXPERTS IN THE FIELD YOU’RE NEW TO

After Cheryl’s publicist left the publishing house, she knew she had to roll with the punches. British novelist Kunal Basu gave Cheryl sound advice. “ Kunal told me that if writing a book is like giving birth to a child, it’s important that you do as much as you can for it even after it’s out in the world. I remember him saying, you don’t want to give birth and then just leave the baby on the street for the world to discover — no, you should want to nurture it, hold its hand as it crosses the street, help it have the best possible start it can have in the world. Those words have always stuck with me — so I’m always keen to help however I can on the marketing front.”

LEVERAGE YOUR NETWORK

Despite the challenges she had with her first book, there was still growing press interest in the book though. Cheryl took it upon herself to do her own P.R. as much as she could, reaching out to journalists she knew and letting them know about it, especially if she was coming to their city.

“The Asian American Journalists Association’s network was hugely supportive of the book, sometimes organizing happy hours and parties in the cities where I went for Tiger readings. And several chapters — in Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York — have done the same for the Singapore Noir tour too. I remain enormously grateful for that,” Cheryl added.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS A BIG ASSET

Social media was huge factor in both getting early word about the book out and then after, when Cheryl was hitting the road for readings. “I started a blog — www.atigerinthekitchen.com — when I first sold the book. At first this was intended to be a writing exercise of sorts — I had primarily been a fashion writer before and I was interested in exploring my food voice,” she added.

But along the way, as she blogged about her eating and cooking adventures during her year of travel and research for A Tiger, she gradually gained regulars — people whom she would eventually meet at her readings when A Tiger finally was published.

Along the way, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have been hugely helpful, too. “Hey, people love photos of food!” she concluded.

DON’T WORK IN SILOES

While writing a book is usually done alone, the problem is, it gets lonely. Cheryl took it upon herself to connect on social media with other authors. She mentioned that she found that Twitter and Facebook were ways to get to know some authors she knew and admired a little better. “I sometimes feel we have a little community of sorts online, where we’re cheering one another on,” Cheryl said.

CONCLUSION

Although I’ve known Cheryl for years, she is someone I admire. After being let go from the WSJ, she secured a book deal and had to not only learn that industry, but also essentially become a marketing machine herself. The success of her first book proved her work paid off.

As her second book launches Tuesday, it will be exciting to see how well it performs. Cheryl describes her newest “baby” by stating:

It really offers a very intimate view of Singapore, especially some neighborhoods where tourists rarely go. The settings range from Singapore’s fast-paced financial district to a rural fishing village on the Eastern shore to Geylang, the country’s infamous red-light district.

But beyond offering a sultry fresh view of Singapore, I really wanted this anthology to showcase the work of some of Singapore’s best and most-beloved writers and I’m pleased to say that we have a stellar cast here. Three of them — Colin Cheong, Suchen Christine Lim and Simon Tay — have won the Singapore Literature Prize, which is the country’s equivalent of the Pulitzer. Many of them — Ovidia Yu, Philip Jeyaretnam, Colin Goh, Johann S. Lee — were people I’d read and admired for years. And several aren’t as known in the U.S. because they’ve not been published here before — so it’s very exciting to present some of the best of Sing Lit to the world in this book. I’m hoping this book will be a way that Western readers will discover Singaporean literature — as well as pockets of the country that are enchanting and filled with intrigue.

The “Singapore Noir” book tour, which launches June 3, will take Cheryl to New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Miami. Details here:http://cheryllulientan.com/events/

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