About the Tournament

How It Works

Every March at The Morning News we present The Tournament of Books, a month-long battle royale among the year’s best novels.

But it’s not really a contest. We’re not even sure it’s a “tournament.” What the ToB has been and will be, as long as we’re putting it on, is a month-long conversation about novels and reading and writing and art that takes place on weekdays in March.

Here’s how it works. Throughout the year, we gather, read, and assess the works of fiction we think would make worthy tournament competitors. In December we present our findings in the form of a "long list." We then cull it to a final shortlist of 16 or so books. (Some years we expand the list beyond the core 16 to include an extra set of two or more books that compete in a pre-tournament play-in match.)

When the Tournament of Books begins in March, each weekday two works of fiction go head to head, with one of our judges deciding which book moves forward in the brackets, according to whatever criteria matters to them. Along the way, the judges reveal their biases and interests, any connections they have to the participating authors, and, most importantly, an elaborate explanation of how they decided between the two books.

Following that day’s decision, we have color commentary in the form of a dialogue between two experts. From the beginning, our ToB Chairmen, authors Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, have cracked wise, but we’ve also invited into the booth our favorite literary podcasters, independent booksellers from across the country, and novelists like Elliott Holt and Laura van den Berg. Think of it as a bigger-picture view of the proceedings from people who not only have read a ton of fiction, but who are also familiar with the way that the publishing industry makes the sausage, to bastardize a phrase. Then we leave it up to you, the readers, to add your own passionate thoughts and rebukes to the mix in the comments section.

From the eight opening round matches to the four quarterfinal matches through the two semifinal matches, the original field of 16 competitors is whittled down to two books. However, before those books can enter the championship match, they must compete in our “Zombie Round,” which brings back two books that were eliminated during gameplay.

This is how the Zombies are chosen: Each year, prior to the tournament, when we announce the final list of books, we ask our readers at The Morning News to vote for their favorite novel from the list. When we reach the Zombie Round during gameplay, the two books that received the most popular votes—and have already been eliminated in the competition’s earlier rounds—rise from the dead with another shot at reaching the championship.

The two books that emerge victorious from the Zombie Round enter the final match, which is decided by our entire judging panel. Each judge picks their favorite of the two final books, and the book that receives the most votes takes home that year’s Rooster.

See also: A Brief History of the Tournament of Books at The Morning News