If you're living outside of the US and live in a area that is hard to reach, how do you let an agent contact you? Could you direct them to a friend's house/phone number in the US and then have them direct the agent to you? And would you need to clarify all of this in the query letter or let the agent find out when they call up the friend? Or should you explain the situation and just exclude a phone number/address and only provide an email address? Also, would it affect your chances by being so difficult to contact? Should you just wait until you move back to the US before querying?
I think that there are a number of ways to answer this question, but that I'll try and do the most direct of them. We are very lucky to live in a modern world where technology allows us to communicate with people who are halfway around the globe from us. There are many people around the world who are fluent in English, and who want to write novels in that language. Just because you don't live in the US or UK or Australia or Canada, doesn't mean that you should be penalized for doing that.
Let us assume, purely for the sake of example, that you live in Ecuador. I have friends who come from that country, so I can tell you with a decent amount of accuracy that the mail service is not very good there. If you're sending a package to Ecuador, you can't just dump it into your local mailbox--it won't get there. So what happens is that you must use an expensive courier/delivery service, which is pretty much the only way to guarantee that the package will reach its intended recipient in Ecuador. Now that's the background information.
So here you are, this writer from Ecuador who has written this great novel, and you're set to start querying agents in the US. Let's assume that you can get internet access because of your day job, but that your local phone service isn't very good. What you do, very politely, mind you, is explain this to the agent in your query letter. You should always include your full name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. And in your query letter, you say something along the lines of this: "I currently live in the foothills of the Andes in Ecuador. Local phone and mail service tends to be unreliable, but I am easily accessible via e-mail. If you would like to speak to me over the phone, I would be happy to arrange a time and date through e-mail, at your convenience, and then place the call using an internet phone service."
Now that's a lot of information, and here I am, the queen of telling you to keep your query letters short. But in this instance, I think that you do need to inform the agent of your circumstances. Having them call a friend or relative in the US is a roundabout way of doing things, and tends to make us more confused. Agents see a large number of queries, so keeping things simple is something that we like, since it helps us with our job. By explaining your circumstances, similarly to how I did so in the example, you're letting the agent know your current situation, and giving them a head's up.
Will this affect your chances with an agent? Most likely yes. It's a lot easier to deal with clients that have better communications, and don't require international postage for every piece of mail you need to send them. Regardless of that, however, if someone's writing is good enough, we will take them on as a client. I don't currently have any international clients, other than Canadians, but I'm strongly eyeing someone over in Germany (you know who you are =). Lori has a number of international clients, and does business with them just the same as everyone else. It takes a little more effort on both your part and the agent's part, but you can have a very decent working relationship with an agent who's not in your current country.
Don't wait until you get back to the US, to start querying agents about your novel. You've written it already, you think it's good, and that's enough to get it out the door. Wait patiently for responses from the US (or UK) agents, and work on your second novel in the meantime. Things will take longer because you're an international writer, but the cards are not totally stacked against you.
Two more things to note:
- Skype and other internet phone services like it are your friend. They'll allow you to make international calls, often for very little money, and you'll be able to actually hear your agent's voice from time to time. That's always a good thing.
- If you intend to do business in the US, which includes selling books to US publishers, you will need to apply for a US social security number. The number is used to track your income for federal tax purposes, and is required by all agents and publishers, before they can do business with you. I'm not very familiar with all the intricacies of it, but more information can be found here, on the Social Security Administration website.