Call it American Idol meets the book publishing industry. This morning, ABC's Good Morning America announced that the first of three finalists in its months-long search for the great American memoir is Betty Ferguson, a mother who forgave her daughter's killer. Two more finalists will be announced on March 29 and March 30, building up to a recap show on March 31 that will encourage Americans to vote online for a winner, to be announced April 22. That lucky person will not only collect $10,000 and appear on 20/20, but also embark on an eight-city publicity tour to promote the 100,000-copy first printing which will be published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment.
When GMA kicked off the competition on November 19, Americans had one month to submit 600-word essays detailing their life stories. More than 6,000 responded, and the final three were chosen by authors James McBride, Mary Higgins Clark and Mary Karr, along with Peter Castro, executive editor of People magazine, and S&S president and CEO Jack Romanos. "We got the whole spectrum," said GMA producer Carrie Cook, who came up with the concept for the competition. "We got old, we got young, we got crime, we got overcoming extreme adversity."
In the 12 weeks since the three finalists were selected, each has written a memoir, with the assistance of professional writers. "Each story is powerfully engaging, hugely inspiring, relatable, all of these finalists are promotable," said SSE editor Ryan Fischer-Harbage.
Though only the winner's book is under contract to be published, both Cook and agent Richard Pine, who helped broker the deal between GMA and SSE, are optimistic about the prospects for the others. "I would actually like to see some published that didn't make it to the final three," said Cook. And of the fates of the three finalists, Pine said, "I'll make a pinkie bet with you right now that they all get published."