EarlyLight Books, Inc. - Small Business Success Stories

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1436 Dellwood Road Ste B Waynesville, NC 28786

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Haywood Community College biology teacher, Dawn Cusick, mixed her love of science with her past work experience as a writer and designer to start her own publishing company, EarlyLight Books. EarlyLight Books incorporated in 2007 and specializes in science books for children and adults. Cusick says the company only publishes non-fiction and “celebrates the intersection of science and fun.”               

Currently EarlyLight Books has published eight books--four that are already on the market and four that are being printed. The company’s books have been on the market for one year. Two of these books were written by Cusick herself and have gained national popularity.

Both Bug Butts and Animal Tongues quickly gained national attention and are on the Science Books and Films’ list of Best Science Books for Children for 2009. The American Association for the Advancement of Science publishes the list yearly.

                And the Animal Behavior Society just awarded the Outstanding Children’s Book Award for 2010 to Bug Butts. Cusick said, “This award is really cool because a group of biology PhDs chose the finalists and then they took samples of the finalist books to elementary schools and actual elementary school children chose the winner.”

                Another EarlyLight Book, Colors is sold at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the other books can be found across the country in several zoo gift shops and bookstores.

                 For Cusick, the transition from writer, designer to Biology teacher and small business publisher has taken several years. In college she majored in English and was editor of the campus newspaper. She began her career working for Lark Books, a company that was eventually sold to Sterling Publishing and then to Barnes and Noble. She worked for them for 19 years. Initially, she was an in-house author and also did graphics for FiberArts magazine and for the last five years there, Cusick was Director of Custom Publishing and Branded Books.

                During these years, Cusick discovered her love for science. While working full time and raising a family, she returned to college to get a bachelor’s degree in Biology at UNCA and finally a master’s degree from Western Carolina University. Today, she is a part-time Biology instructor and a full-time publisher. As a publisher she signs on other authors, works with designers and illustrators and sees a project through from concept to finished product.

When she decided to start EarlyLight Books, Cusick knew the publishing business but had no experience running a small business. She turned to the HCC Small Business Center and SBC Director Sharron Donnahoe for advice. The Small Business Center provides budding entrepreneurs with the knowledge and resources needed to make informed decisions concerning their business ventures. A resource library of print, audio, and video materials is also available for loan. The Center is located on the main campus of HCC in the Learning Resource Center. Counseling services are available by appointment and are free of charge.

“Leaving the security of a full-time job to start a business is difficult, and some people would even consider it crazy, but Sharron offers support and knowledge to everyone who comes in to the center,” said Cusick. “When I developed my business plan, she provided templates to help get me organized and even sat down with me to review my final plan. She is a valuable resource herself.”

Cusick also took advantage of the many free seminars offered through the Small Business Center. “I know my product and I am industrious, but I needed help with sales and accounting. The seminar on Cash Flow really helped me look at my product as a unit,” she said. “I also found it inspiring to be around other entrepreneurs.”

                Also, the Small Business Center Resource Library was a valuable tool to Cusick. She says, “I used it as think tank. It's just a great place to go to when you need specific information or when you just want to sit down with a blank piece of paper and do some brainstorming.”

                In the publishing business, Cusick works with other writers, illustrators and designers but has ultimately put the finishing touches on all of her books. “I may get a designer to lay out a couple of spreads, pick the font and set the style of the book, but I always finish the layout myself,” she said. That is one of the reasons she chose to publish the books instead of just writing and turning it over to another publisher. “I wanted to make sure the books turned out the way I envisioned them,” she said.

She deals directly with the printer and the book distributor who warehouses the printed books. Cusick also does her own marketing by sending out a lot of letters to museums, zoos, libraries, gift shops and bookstores. The only complaint that has ever been registered is that sometimes the book jackets will get frayed because so many children pick up the books to look at them. Laughingly Cusick said, “I consider that a good thing, it means that the book got their attention.” Also she offered a solution to that problem --take the jacket off because the covers are also printed.   

                In addition to the two books discussed earlier, the current book selections include Animal Baths, Animal Eyes, Animal Eggs, Caterpillars, as well as a small children’s board book version of Animal Colors. Cusick continues to look for fresh, non-fiction ideas as a way to make science fun for young and old readers. More information about EarlyLight Books and how to submit a book idea or purchase books can be found on the Internet at earlylightbooks.com 

For more information about the HCC Small Business center, call 828-627-4512 or visit www.sbc.haywood.edu on the Internet.