Annette Dunlap: NCDA&CS agribusiness developer and published author

by | Mar 4, 2010

We like to think that the department has a pretty talented and dedicated group of workers, but sometimes the things our staff does outside the office are equally impressive. cleveland2

Take for example agribusiness developer Annette Dunlap, who most recently has been crisscrossing the state holding a series of marketing workshops for agribusinesses and farmers market vendors and managers. By day, Dunlap works with economic developers in Eastern North Carolina on agricultural business issues and also works with entrepreneurs who want to start or expand food businesses.

Outside of her departmental duties, the 55-year-old is a published author of a recent biography on Frances Folsom Cleveland, wife of President Grover Cleveland and the youngest first lady in our country’s history.

Dunlap said writing a book was one of the things on her personal “bucket list” of things to do. In the end, she found that this is no small task, particularly with regards to writing a biography, but the experience was a rewarding one.  So much so, that she is now working on her second book. 

Dunlap first became interested in Frances Cleveland when she was teaching college classes on advertising and marketing. She learned that the young first lady’s image had been used without her permission in advertising many products. At that time, the business climate was changing from small-batch production to mass production, and these new companies were starting to look at marketing their products to consumers. The first lady was a popular figure of the day, so her image started appearing on a variety of products.

“At that time, there was no law to protect a person’s image. There were several pieces of legislation introduced on her behalf because there were no laws, but they were not immediately passed,” Dunlap said. “So she had no legal standing to protect her image.”

Eventually, copyright laws were passed, and Frances Cleveland played a role in that process,” Dunlap said. “She had a lot more impact on the U.S. than people realize.”

In addition to being at the center of such groundbreaking change, the 27-year age difference between the Clevelands and the fact that Frances Cleveland was the youngest first lady and was married in the White House convinced Dunlap there was a lot more story to tell about Frances Cleveland. Plus, there were few books published on her.

Researching and writing her first book can best be described as a labor of love. Dunlap self-financed all of the out-of- state travel costs to research her subject.

Still she was luckier than most, finding a publisher — SUNY Press/Excelsior Editions — with established distribution channels, skilled editors and experience publishing similar types of books.

“It is exceedingly difficult to get a book published, and I was unbelievably fortunate to be given a contract from a reputable publishing house, and not have to pay to publish the book,” Dunlap said.

She cites James Michener and John Grisham as examples of major authors who were turned down many times before finally achieving success.

Not counting the time spent extensively researching the book, Dunlap spent a year and a half in a part-time capacity writing and getting the manuscript ready for publication.   

Along the way, Dunlap learned some valuable lessons from the process.  “I learned everything has a context. If a person can get background or history on a person or issue, it can help make it easier to understand it,” she said.  The other lesson was “learning how to do a better job of writing with clarity.”

Dunlap’s book recently elicited a call from an editor with Parade magazine regarding a question about first ladies that was submitted to the Personality section of the popular Sunday newspaper insert. That question, and Dunlap’s response, will appear in the March 14 paper.

Dunlap has a number of speaking engagements lined up on the horizon, including being a speaker at the National First Ladies Library in May in Canton, Ohio. See more about Dunlap and upcoming events here.