What can help you sell your novel?
Well, that would be conferences, conventions and contests! Let me tell you why.
Recently, I attended the World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City, UT. Being responsible for the pitch sessions, I was lucky enough to get to spend time with Agent Kristen Nelson and Mirrorstone Editor Stacy Whitman. Both are lovely ladies, and were great fun!
Kristen gave me a few tips to pass along to the people signed up to see her, and I think they apply well to all pitches. She suggests you limit your "pitch" to about two minutes (see if you can get it down to a couple of sentences), leaving you time to ask questions and her time to ask questions. Don't memorize your pitch - just talk about it. Have questions prepared to ask. Her website is www. nelsonagency.com, and also check out her great blog, Pub Rants.
Stacy provided guidelines for the Mirrorstone line (YA) and the Discoveries line (independent fiction). You can find both at http://www.mirrorstonebooks.com/submissionguidelines. She suggests you read the guidelines before you pitch, so you'll know whether your manuscript fits in. Many thanks to her, Kristen and Editor Don D'Auria of Leisure Books for their participation.
What else? Well, contests are also a good way to get feedback on your work AND get it in front of the right editor or agent. Pick contests that feature the editor and/or agent you'd like to work with and enter. Even if you don't get to the final stage the first time, you'll get valuable feedback on your prose.
Research is KEY. Research the publisher/editor you want to work with, research the contest you want to enter, research what kind of scores/feedback you'll get. If you have questions, ask your critique group, Yahoo loop or just other writers you know.
Remember to behave professionally in all cases. A bad first impression may not ever be fixed.
I've got a contest list each month, so if you need some suggestions or would like a copy, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org