Happy conference season to all those who are submitting! During a writer's chat I took part in last week (#IndieChat on Tuesday at 6pm PT on Twitter) the question of how to pitch came up. Having landed two agents, the best answer I can give is that you must know what the heart of your novel is before you can pitch it or start submitting it. If you don't know, neither will the person you're trying to 'sell' it to, which means they won't buy off on the idea.
Knowing the heart of your novel is more than just saying it's about this character or that event. It's saying what is deep down, the idea that drove you to write the novel in the first place. Take one of my novel's for example, The Secret Of Spruce Knoll. At first glance it looks like a story about a girl who discovers she's a channeler after her parents are killed and she has to go live with her aunt in a strange little town. But that isn't the heart of the novel, not by a long shot. The heart of the novel is that Eren is part of an endangered species that is going extinct as the world slowly dies. See what I mean about the heart? The second description illicites a deeper response because it's about the big issue, what is outside of the character and drives them through the novel.
You have to get to the deep issue and bring it to the surface of your query or pitch. Only then will others see your novel and it's potential. You may have written an amazing novel but if you can't communicate what is so amazing about it then no one will ever know. It's all about that first impression. Those of you who are querying and getting no bites, take another look at your query. Does it get to the heart of things?
Best of luck!
Author of The Secret Of Spruce Knoll, Born Of Fire, Channeler's Choice, and coming in May of 2012, To Ride A Puca. A short story of Heather's is also available in the free In His Eyes eBook anthology.