Nonagenarian writing coach guides the craft of hopeful authors
Les Stobbe didn’t set out to be a publishing phenom. As a farm boy in Winnipeg, Manitoba, milking cows and hauling hay, he dreamed of becoming a medical missionary. But a stint in the hospital sent him on a different path.
Following a year at university, he worked a variety of jobs and spent his off hours climbing mountains in British Columbia. During one such trek, he was hit by falling rocks and broke his leg.
“I was lying there in my hospital bed, reading a Christian Life Magazine, and an advertisement caught my eye,” he remembers. “The headline read: ‘You Can Write.’”
Well, he already loved to read, so why not? Stobbe took the declaration seriously and signed up for the course. His professional ascent was swift. After earning a BA in pastoral theology, he became editor of the weekly magazine Mennonite Observer.
“I launched the first edition, worked as editor, ad salesman, children’s writer when necessary,” says Stobbe, now 90, his hazel eyes twinkling. “Wrote an editorial every week for four years.”
Then Moody Bible Institute hired him to manage the Moody Press bookstore in Chicago. “That’s what brought me to the States,” he says.
And for decades he was up to his eyebrows in literary adventures — discovering new authors; editing, publishing, and marketing books; leading numerous industry groups; and developing writing workshops and courses. Stobbe had a hand in publishing The Living Bible. He ghost-wrote books for celebrities (including Dale Evans Rogers) and taught his craft throughout North America, Europe, and further abroad in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Singapore, and Manila.
When large secular publishers started buying up Christian publishing houses in the 1990s, Stobbe became a literary agent in the genre. Armed with a lifetime of contacts, he visited bookseller conventions and found homes for his clients’ faith-based fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. “It’s satisfying to see clients’ books published,” says the tall, soft-spoken Tryon resident. (He and Rita, his wife of 64 years, have lived in the town since 2004 and have a son, a daughter, and five grandchildren.)
Before long, Stobbe’s client list stretched from the U.S. and Canada to Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. “I had a very good writer from Nigeria,” he recalls. “My commitment was to beginning writers. First-time book authors.”
No fan of today’s self-publishing marketplace, Stobbe notes, “There’s too much chicanery in the field. Many companies offer publication — their promises hook hopeful authors. But there’s no marketing. Lots of promises and printed books, but no marketing to get readers to buy.” He acknowledges the daunting challenge of traditional publishing, too: “Today you have to have a national reputation to break into the larger publishing market.”
When Stobbe sold his agency, he “retired” to coaching writers. The tagline on his business website states, “Cheering on writers is his mission” — an echo of that long-ago farm boy’s missionary dream.
Leslie H. Stobbe, Tryon. For more information, see stobbeliterary.com.