What is the line between novella and novel? At what point does an agent/editor ask, "Did 20,000 words fall between the couch cushions?"

For first-time novelists, the knot is the fact publishers do not want to spend more in printing costs than possible. I can attest to this as someone in the magazine business. This means word counts for first-timers should be lower. But how low? I've heard 70k, 60k and even as low as 50k. What do you think?

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All the publishers I talk to have specified the word count they prefer somewhere on their website. The count is generally 70,000 to 90,000 words. First-time novelists do not fall into a different category for word count, because there isn't a different category. Books outside the normal range are considered based on the merits of the writing and story.

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Bob
What Bob said. A book needs to be as long as is required by subject and genre. Check some successful novels of the type you plan to write.
Thanks for the insights, Bob and I.J., much appreciated. I asked a retired newspaper reporter (no, they don't all fall off the wagon before 40) how long articles should be. He answered, "Until it's done." The problem I'm running into is my novel is roughly 65k and I feel it is "done." Adding anything more would just be filler, and I abhor filler. There is something to be said for concise, economical writing. This makes me wonder what is going through the minds of the people I query. Do they think it's too short? Or am I just over thinking all this?
Well, Brave New World, The Great Gatsby, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Catcher in the Rye are all about 50,000 words, so there are popular novels shorter than the one you have.

There is no rule for how long one is since there is no central authority for books. I feel it has more to do with structure (such as chapters vs. no chapters) and the progression of time and complexity of the plot more than just word length.

Is it a novel or a novella? You know when you read it, right? You can just tell when you read something if it's a novella or a novel. I don't know how to quantify it, but you can just feel it.
65K should be fine, unless otherwise specified in the submission guidelines.
As a newspaper man, I totally agree with "until it is done."

If you are submitting your novel, and it isn't selling, it could be any number of "issues" not related to page counts. After all, look on the shelves and you'll see some awfully short novels and some awfully long ones out there.

I like to think quality will find a home, but with the economic status of the nation, and a publishing industry in a bit of upheaval, I wonder if even that is the case.

I'm hard-headed so I keep submitted my novels, reworking them, revising, all the while writing the next one.
My first ended up just a bit below 75k, my second is around 78k--so, roughly 300-310 typeset pages. The Big Sleep is 220 pages or so, depending on the edition. I don't think there's any rule, and in any case your agent/editor is likely to view your first ms as very much a work in progress--both my agent and editor asked for significant revisions--scenes cut here, scenes added there--so the finished book will probably have a somewhat different shape/length than the ms.
Good points all around. As many a response to my queries have said, "Publishing is a highly subjective business." Quite true. Had there been an objective answer my question, and I fell below the mark, it'd've been back to the drawing board. The novel can rest easy tonight. No massaging out another 10k for me, I'll save my fingers for a real back rub.
Great attitude. Never jump at advise, consume it, let it digest, most of it comes out as...hmmm. The ones to listen to are the people who are co-invested in getting sales of your book, the agent and the publisher. It still doesn't hurt to have a few beta readers who are not friends or relatives. Their comments may fuel a fire in your imagination. The embers can be saved as journal notes for the time the agent and editor are pointing the shotgun in your direction and counting down.
I've heard several industry people speak in terms of specific limits. Sure you can go over 100K with a first novel but it's a strike against you, because a thick book ups the costs, and sure you can turn in a novel under 65K but that's a strike against you too, because a skinny book is hard to sell at $29.95.

Those are the numbers and the reasoning that I recall from reading things over the years and attending a couple of writers conferences and hearing agents/editors speak.
My first piece was just over 100K wordcount. It came out to 294 pages printed. The piece I'm working on now is almost 200K word, and will be almost 425 pages when printed. The way my editor keeps telling me, don't worry about the word count, just tell the story.
I just cut 22,000 words from a novel (it's still about 90,000). The publisher was concerned with saving paper.

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