There are no standardized definitions for book lengths or word counts. Individuals, organizations, and businesses have set their own, but go somewhere else and variations appear. The entire publishing industry and raisin bran have the same issue; no one knows exactly what quantities lay within. Just how big is a scoop of raisins? I have three different sizes of scoops in my kitchen. I suppose it doesn't matter as we do get two scoops in every box, but I think my point is made.
When I go to the gas station and buy a tank measured in gallons or liters, I know that quantity is consistent from station to station. When I purchase medication from my local pharmacist, I don't have to worry about overdosing because a milligram is a globally fixed value. Businesses today have standards so when you buy a pound or kilo of something, you get your money's worth. It's against the law to advertise a product or commodity and then sell less than the stated amount. Speaking for myself, if I bought a book advertised as a novel and it turned out to be only 172 pages, I'd feel ripped off and would never buy that persons work again.
From research, I can see the 40K "novel" probably started with the Science Fiction Writers of America as a definition for their Nebula Awards somewhere around 1966 and has (to the best of my knowledge) never been updated. The SFWA says anything larger than 40K may be considered for their Novel Nebula Award. So people drew the inevitable conclusion that a novel can be as little as 40K words. Now in the 1960's, it was much harder to write. There were whacking great things called typewriters that had to be poked carefully or you needed to redo the entire page. Books from that time were smaller as a result. Computers have made it a lot easier to write, review, and amend text. Over the years, people started to put out larger books, in greater numbers. Yet, the standards have not been revised to reflect that. Go to a publisher today claiming to have a 40K novel and they'll probably laugh you out of their office.
Frederick Forsyth is a novelist
John le Carré is a novelist
Frank Herbert is an epic novelist
Tom Clancy is an epic novelist
J. R. R. Tolkien is THE epic novelist
Someone who writes a nineteen page story about their cat is a novelist.
Wait a minute, you say; nineteen pages isn't a novel! Well, in a world without a hard and fast definition, it could be. Without a measurable standard, the word is meaningless and subject to abuse. Same goes for novellas and novelette's.
The publishing industry (traditional and ebook) needs to set fixed standards for what word count constitutes a novel, novella, novelette, etc. Those labels should then be placed on all book and ebook advertising so people know what they are buying before money changes hands. It's the 21st Century and today you can't pick up an ebook to look how thick it is. You need a trustworthy indication of what lays within. It must be publicly stated, and agreed to by all the major players for consistency.
I write novels and epic novels. Every book I have written to date is over 100K words and two are ~150K. So by any definition out there, I'm a novelist, and I'm damned proud of it. Yet someone who does a third of the work can also call themselves the same, and that's just wrong. I therefore ask that you consider the following.
The Parkinson Standards for Word Count in the 21st Century are proposed as:
Short Story = 1,000 - 10,000 words
Novelette = 10,000 - 30,000 words
Novella = 30,000 - 80,000 words
Novel = 80,000 - 150,000 words
Epic novels = >150,000 words
I understand that these numbers mean a lot of older books fall in the novella category and that's going to tick some people off. As examples, The Great Gatsby is ~45,000 words. The Catcher in the Rye is ~38,000. This also affects my favorite book, Starship Troopers, which clocks in at around 66,000 words. There are all masterworks of fiction and I'm not suggesting we take anything away from them. We have revisited standards before. Indeed, we do it regularly. Pluto used to be a planet and became a dwarf planet in 2006. In 2008, it became a plutoid because we needed a better definition for trans-neptunian objects in or around the Kuiper belt. Pluto is still the same celestial body. Same mass, same atmosphere, same number of moons, but it is a plutoid today because the International Astronomical Union would have had issues with other objects, that were larger than Pluto.
I don't care if you agree with this list or not, I just want you to get involved in the debate. What do you think ladies and gents?