Barbara Epler, president and publisher of New Directions, couldn’t help but pun when describing the biennial Novel Prize, awarded jointly by the New York City–based New Directions, London-based Fitzcarraldo, and Sydney-based Giramondo to a book-length work of literary nonfiction: “Global publication by three anglophone publishers—I think that’s sort of novel.”

Indeed, the Novel Prize, launched in March 2020, is the first—and only—of its kind.

While other literary prizes may offer publishing contracts—including Spanish publisher Anagrama’s Herralde Prize, Graywolf Press’s Nonfiction Prize, and a number offered by university presses—none offer the same international reach as the Novel Prize. Presented by a triumvirate of international indie publishers, the award offers a $10,000 purse and simultaneous publication in North America, courtesy of New Directions; the U.K. and Ireland, courtesy of Fitzcarraldo; and Australia and New Zealand, courtesy of Giramondo.

Next week marks the publication of the Novel Prize’s second winner—and in a twist, there are two of them.

“This time, we really couldn’t choose one over the other,” Epler said of the winning novels, Tell by Jonathan Buckley and It Lasts Forever and Then Its Over by Anne de Marcken, both slated for release on March 5. The former centers on the relationship between a gardener and her wealthy patron, while the latter explores grief and the undead. (“God knows a New Directions book starring zombies never crossed my mind,” Epler quipped.) The books will be featured as the respective March and April picks for New Directions' New Classics Club.

“Let me just say it is a thrill to have three beautiful book cover designs!” de Marcken joked, adding that she’s “still swirling around,” riding the high of her win.

The prize’s inaugural winner, Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au, was published in February 2022. Au called the Novel Prize “something rare and unique in the literary world” and described her win as “life-changing.” The rights to Cold Enough for Snow have now sold into 19 other territories, plus audio.

Epler credits Fitzcarraldo publisher Jacques Testard with dreaming up the prize. In June 2019, Testard came to New York and met Epler and senior editor Tynan Kogane at Coppelia on 14th Street, a favorite haunt of New Directions staffers. Over lunch, the trio chatted about the many authors that Fitzcarraldo and New Directions shared. “The two houses have a lot of overlap,” noted Epler, citing Mieko Kanai, John Keene, Fernanda Melchor, and Adania Shibli, and Maria Stepanova, among others.

Then Testard, who in 2016 had successfully launched Fitzcarraldo’s Essay Prize for book-length essays by unpublished writers, mentioned a new fiction prize that he had cooked up with Nick Tapper, commissioning editor of Australia’s Giramondo. (Giramondo shares authors with both Fitzcarraldo and New Directions, including Jon Fosse and Alexis Wright, respectively.) They were looking for a U.S. partner—did New Directions want in?

“My first thought was, Jeez, that sounds like a lot of work,” Epler recalled. “We get so many manuscripts as it is. And what if we can't agree on a winner?” But her ambivalence soon gave way to enthusiasm; the next day, she sent Testard an email with the subject line “We want to join you in the prize game!”

Kogane, who edited Cold Enough for Snow, added that the prize felt like a natural progression of the three publishers’ working relationship. “We’ve collaborated on books, editing together, putting together joint publicity plans, and we’ve also shared tips for new writers, circulated manuscripts and readers reports, and talked openly and extensively about our literary tastes,” he said. “Since we were already sharing so many projects and ideas, it wasn’t a scary new concept to also imagine sharing a prize—we didn’t need much convincing to do it!”

Together, the teams at New Directions, Fitzcarraldo, and Giramondo came up with a name for the prize (Testard nixed “the Fitzmondo Directions Prize”) as well as its parameters, opting for a biennial award cycle. “I didn’t think we could handle the deluge every year,” Epler said.

In its first year, the Novel Prize received nearly 1,500 submissions, and its five shortlisted novels included Emily Hall’s The Longcut, published in 2022 by Dalkey Archive, and Christine Lai’s Landscapes, published in 2023 by Two Dollar Radio. In 2022, the prize’s second year, 2022, it received close to 1,000 submissions. Now in its third year, the prize will open for submissions from April 1 to June 1.

In the selection process, each publisher will look through hundreds of manuscripts based on their territory—New Directions handles North and South America, Fitzcarraldo Africa and Europe, and Giramondo Asia and Australasia—and forward the best five to 10 from their batch to the other two publishers. From there, a shortlist is assembled and a winner is chosen. Or, in this year’s case, two winners.

“We fell for each of them,” said Maya Solovej, publicity manager and assistant editor at New Directions, who coedited the winning novels with Epler, “and Jacques was the one who said, ‘Couldn't we just publish both?’”

The judging process at New Directions, which is shared among three or four staffers, is “laborious, meandering, and a bit chaotic,” Kogane said, “like divvying up an area of forest to slowly scan it for mushrooms.” He noted that in choosing the best in their batch, the New Directions team might encounter manuscripts they will consider publishing regardless of whether they win the prize. “Even if we might not be able to talk everyone over to what we think should win,” Epler echoed, “that doesn’t have to put an end to New Directions’ interest in a particular submission.”

As for what New Directions is looking for, Epler stressed innovation and imagination. “We grew up on James Laughlin’s old idea that when you read a truly new and amazing literary voice, you hear a little bell go off,” she said, adding that the criterion originated from Laughlin’s time studying under Gertrude Stein. “We heard that bell tinkling with Au, de Marcken, and Buckley.”