Brenda Novak is a world-famous NY Times (& USA Today) Bestselling author with a ton of accolades to her name. But if you were to ask her, she’d say she’s just a mom with a passion to help find a cure for her son.
I had the opportunity to chat with her via e-mail over the weekend, and her down to earth manner really made an impression on me. I was totally star-struck, which only magnified her humbleness.
Her son, Thad, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of five (same age as my diagnosis), and shortly after she started holding an annual online auction to help fund diabetes research. To date she has raised over $1.3 million.
Before I dive into my chat with Brenda, I’d like to cover the basics of the auction and talk about a special giveaway just for readers of Scott’s Diabetes. There are a ton of details and resources on her webpage, Brenda Novak for the cure of Diabetes, if you’d like more than what I explain here.
The auction starts this morning, May 1, 2012 and runs through the end of the month. In order to participate, you have to register an account on the auction website. If you enter ‘SJ2012’ in the promo code box, you’ll get a free autographed book from Brenda!
Once you are registered you can browse all of the cool items that are available. Some of the items up for bids include having afternoon tea in the English countryside with Crime Novelist Peter James, getting to know NYT Bestseller James Rollins over lunch, drawings for Writers Conferences, chances to win a MacBook Air, Advanced Reader Copies, naming a character in an upcoming book, having a book dedicated to you, and more! The list goes on and on.
Head on over to register today! Remember to enter ‘SJ2012’ to get your free autographed book.
Chatting With Brenda
SKJ – How and when did you come up with the idea for the online auction?
BN – I wanted to do something almost immediately after my youngest son was diagnosed (at five) ten years ago. I was brokenhearted to learn of the difficulty of managing his blood sugars and that he would likely suffer some terrible side effects (as most here will know, those with diabetes have a much greater chance of getting cancer, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, etc.). I was panicked and wanting to do anything possible to help my son, but I was a young mother with five kids and no resources. I was also very busy, was just starting to build a successful career as a writer. My husband kept telling me to relax, that “there is a time and a season for everything.” But I was relentless in my desire. I wanted to do something, and I wanted to do it right away.
About two years after Thad was diagnosed, I attended a silent auction at his school. I was disappointed by the turn-out. I remember thinking that those who had donated items were not getting the PR they were, no doubt, hoping for, and the school wasn’t getting the kind of money they’d been hoping to raise. I thought, “There has to be an easier way to raise money than to try and get over a hundred people to come to one place at one time and include dinner.” And that was when the idea popped into my head. I realized I had a website with significant traffic. I began to wonder if I could enlist my fans to help me raise money via an online event–and Brenda Novak’s Annual Online Auction for Diabetes Research was born in May of 2005.
I knew from the beginning that I would need to give people a reason to shop there–something unique. So I started offering opportunities for aspiring writers to get in front of some of the most powerful people in the business. All the other great items–the trips & stays, the celebrity autographs and meet-and-greets and jewelry and handmade items–help round out the offerings, but the opportunities were what helped it catch on. That first year I raised nearly $35,000. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to tell me the idea had merit. I kept working to build the auction the next year, and the amount raised doubled. It nearly doubled in its third and fourth years, too, so I have kept pushing.
SKJ – Why did you pick the University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute?
(disclosure – I have a business relationship with the DRIF, the fundraising arm of the institute)
BN – I wanted a cure-focused research center. I wanted to strike at the very heart of the disease, to find a cure so that education and money for supplies for the underprivileged would no longer be an issue. After touring the DRI, I became convinced that they had the same goal I did–they wanted to make diabetes a thing of the past. I talked to the scientists there and came away encouraged. I felt, and still feel, as if they have the best chance of delivering a cure and was determined to put the money where it would do the most good.
SKJ- How do you get so many cool things donated each year?
BN – The writing/reading community has been amazing. They have been so supportive, year after year (and they are always the first to get behind a good cause). But I try to make sure that there is something in it for everyone. We had over 20,000 unique visitors last year and over 500,000 page hits. That gives authors a great audience, a chance to put their cover and story hook in front of many people who love books. The authors get the promotion value. The readers get first chance at reading their favorite author’s new book (many times before it even comes out–like in the instance of my new book, WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES, which won’t be out until September but someone can get at the auction in May). And the charity gets the money for research.
The authors and other industry professionals have also been generous in helping me to promote the auction, so it’s growing fast.
SKJ – What does Thad think of your efforts?
BN – Thad has been enthusiastic about it all. When the auction is running, he always comes home after school and checks right away, “What are we at today?” We celebrate every new success. He also helps a great deal in loading items on the auction and helping me get items boxed up and shipped when it’s all over. He helps pass out flyers to promote, too. When I had a local event to coincide with the auction last year, a brunch, he was a huge part of it. I’ll never forget him running around selling raffle tickets. He’d come and report how much he’d raised about every fifteen minutes. LOL
Brenda, thank you for being so generous with your time, for the auction, the giveaway, and this great dialogue. I really enjoyed it! And maybe I’m a bit silly, but I have to say it was so freaking cool to chat with you. Who ever would have thought that my rambling would have me crossing paths with such a famous author?