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Former Sports Writer Turns Marketing ‘Guru’

The Visionary Behind National Book Conference

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 7/31/2013, 4:27 p.m.
Curtis Bunn, sports writer turned fiction author

Curtis Bunn, the Russell Simmons of urban fiction marketing, became a best-selling author when he quit his dream job to lead his dream existence.

Bunn, 51, of Atlanta is a former national sports reporter who covered professional basketball, football, baseball, boxing and golf during a career that spanned more than two decades.

"It was a dream job; it was a dream life," said Bunn, who is host and creator of the National Book Club Conference, which is coming to the Atlanta Marriott Buckhead August 2-4.

"I covered the Olympics in 2000 in Australia,” he said, charting just a few highlights of his career. “I've been to the World Series three times; the Super Bowl three times; the Final Four four times; and the Masters six years in a row. It never felt like a job in 24 years."

But when it start feeling like work, he made the bold step of quitting, and entering literary circles with the likes of Walter Mosley -- famed patriarch of urban crime fiction -- and best-selling fiction writer Terry McMillan.

The Washington, D.C. native decided at age 13 that he would become a newspaper journalist. He honed his talent for storytelling at Norfolk State University. After graduating in 1983, he launched his career as a news reporter for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, then quickly moved on to a sports writing job at his hometown Washington Times.

While climbing the ladder of success, stints at Newsday and the New York Daily News came his way.

A failed marriage prompted Bunn to relocate to Atlanta in 1996 so he could be nearer to his then 3-year-old daughter, Gwendolyn. With ease, he landed a job on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s sports staff.

His byline became a local staple, but he grew increasingly aware that the newspaper was making unsettling changes in response to diminishing advertising dollars, and readership lost to the Internet. The scope and scale of Bunn’s workload changed.

"I remember meeting with an editor who told me, 'Starting next week, you are going to have to write three stories a week, break two news stories and write two alternative story forms’," Bunn recalled. "I sat there across the desk looking at the guy, (thinking) ‘this isn't the business it used to be’. It wasn't the industry that I fell in love with when I was 13."

Bunn exited the AJC in 2008, with a solid Plan B to fall back on.

In 2001, he had written his first novel, "Baggage Check," -- a bold and humorous tale about relationships -- that debuted at No. 2 on the Essence Best Sellers List, which reflects urban book sales from dozens of retailers specializing in the genre.

That first novel became a word-of-mouth sensation. And, from it, he learned the power of self-promotion.

Rather than traveling the country making appearances at bookstores, Bunn reached out directly to readers through social media and book clubs.

"If you don't have a Facebook account and a Twitter account as an author, then you are behind the times," he said.