Novels published during the year 1917 were the first eligible books to be considered for the Pulitzer Prize, however Columbia University and its affiliates at the Pulitzer Board were not quite prepared to manage the Pulitzer process yet. Columbia’s Secretary and Provost, Frank Fackenthal, was the de facto administrator of the early Pulitzers, often serving as the liaison between Columbia’s Board of Trustees and the Pulitzer Advisory Board, as well as the Juries. In his later years, Frank won a special Pulitzer Prize for his service to Columbia in helping to launch the Pulitzer Prizes.
Apparently the first Novel Jury received a mere total of six novel submissions from 1917 – one was ineligible, five were greatly disapproved of, and one was halfway decent. Under the circumstances the Jury recommended not awarding a Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. The Board agreed and the year 1917 went by without a novel winning the Pulitzer.
At the time, the Pulitzer Board consisted of ten men, primarily editors of various newspapers, such as the Associated Press, Boston Globe, and the New York World. They suggested better advertisement was needed for the future of the award.