Literary agent and so much more

Published 10:00 pm Friday, September 26, 2014

_DSC2203 (1)

By Mark Schmerling
Writing, and representing writers as a literary agent, has been Leslie Stobbe’s tickets to visit places that most of us can only reference on the news. For the past ten years, Stobbe, who grew up on a family farm in western Canada, with hard work as his constant companion, has lived in Tryon, with his wife, Rita. He still operates the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency, representing and encouraging writers.
Past the age when many folks retire, Stobbe still conducts individual interviews at some seven writers’ conferences annually, and of course, still represents writers hoping to be published.
Though Stobbe has no journalism degree, he’s been writing for over 55 years. That has helped make him a valuable resource for aspiring writers. “I tell writers, ‘don’t just dream about writing a book,’” noting that, typically (with exceptions), first books by most authors might enjoy a run of only some 3,000 copies, and don’t reach large audiences. Rather, Stobbe tells them to write magazine articles, letters to editors, and produce other works that reach more people.
“I am a writer,” Stobbe noted, in a matter-of-fact manner. He’s published 14 books (mainly as a ghostwriter, over 700 articles, and has helped many previously-unknown authors become published. Also, he noted, “My thing since 1973, has been the importance of the story to communicate the truth. Local people,” he says, “like to learn about local people.”
Stobbe believes strongly that, for publishers, and for literary agents like himself, the value of the story can be more important than who writes it.
He advises writers, “For your story to be accepted (by some publishing houses) you have to have a platform, to become known (as is Stobbe) in Christian circles.” He notes with pride, “I am committed to helping first-book authors get published. You don’t always need a nationally-recognized name to publish a book.”
How did someone who grew up in a Mennonite Brethren (“our focus was in helping the poor”) family farm in western Canada, become a literary agent and an accomplished writer?
As a third and fourth-grader during World War II, Stobbe remembers helping raise money, as did many at the time, for the war effort. In following the course of the war, “I became a newspaper addict,” which grew into an attraction to writing.
While attending a local Bible institute in British Columbia, and working toward a Th.B. in pastoral theology, Stobbe and three others drove 800 miles to northern British Columbia, to work in a led and zinc mine. After six weeks underground working with seasoned miners, Stobbe, who had an Industrial First Aid Certificate, earned a position in the mine’s first aid office and warehouse.
Not long after, while on a mountain-climbing trip, in British Columbia, Stobbe suffered a split femur, and was hospitalized for four months. He recalled that during his recovery, he listened to three Native Americans in the room, and read Christian Life Magazine. An advertisement in one issue caught his eye, advising readers, “You can write,” and promoting a seven-lesson course called “The Beginning Christian Writer.” Stobbe invested the $15 course fee, and completed the lessons while serving as a British Columbia Forest Service dispatcher.
By the time he graduated college, Stobbe had a modest two years of article-writing experience, and had served five months as the college’s publicity person. Ten years after taking the writing course, he was editor of Christian Bookseller Magazine, and associate editor of Christian Life Magazine, with a desk next to that of his former instructor.
Later, Stobbe moved to Chicago, and ran a bookstore, soon serving as the manager of the selling floor of a Moody Bible Institute bookstore. While working at Moody Press, a Christian publishing company, Stobbe was asked to make recommendations on a manuscript of a new translation of First Timothy, which had been originally written in Greek. With his knowledge of the Greek New Testament, Stobbe was able to compare the original with the manuscript in his hands, and gave the translation high marks.
Though Moody officials did not make the author’s identity known to Stobbe before the latter studied the translation, they later told him that the author was Kenneth N. Taylor, who was with Moody at the time, and achieved fame as the translator of The Living Bible. Taylor also founded Tyndale House, today a major Christian publishing company. For his efforts, Stobbe became manuscript editor at Moody at the age of 30, and continued to run the bookstore.
Stobbe’s upbringing concerning helping the poor was instrumental in a rewarding experience in Jackson, Mississippi. An article about John Perkins, an African American native of Mississippi, caught Stobbe’s eye. Perkins, who had no education beyond third grade, became a minister and a civil rights activist. “John’s story so intrigued me,” Stobbe said, “that I had to visit his ministry in Mississippi. Later, he wrote an article on Perkins and Voice of Calvary Ministries for Moody Magazine.
Perkins invited Stobbe to join the Board of Servants, eventually spending 20 years on he board of Perkins’s group. In Jackson, Stobbe related, they rebuilt many older “shotgun” style houses, and made other improvements in the poorest area of town. They initiated a medical clinic, after-school programs, opened a thrift store, and assisted young men and women in their college education.
Stobbe related that the ministry builds houses for those who can’t afford them. He also became involved in programs to help residents earn their GEDs, in food programs, street fairs, and medical facilities for poor residents. The experience was important, on many levels, Stobbe remarked. “I got to know a dozen African-American leaders . . . who gave me insights into the racial issues they ran into in the Christian ministries who hired them after college.” All of this was an extension of the values in which Stobbe was raised. “Service to others in the name of Christ is something that infuses everything I do.”
In 2003, Stobbe was invited to a Christian writers’ conference in Lahore, Pakistan, led by a journalist who also developed Christian churches. Then, he and his associate traveled to Peshawar, where the writing classes included Muslim editors and Christian educators. “I had to modify my position,” he remembers.
His host drove him and his associate up the Khyber Pass. They enjoyed tea overlooking the gateway into Afghanistan. In December 2004, Stobbe and his associate returned to Peshawar, Pakistan, for another training session with a group of tribal newsletter editors. There, he learned more about tribal living. In Pakistan, a tribe can consist of several million individuals. He lectured to tribal newsletter editors.
The next stop was Kabul, Afghanistan, and another two days of teaching writers through an interpreter. “It was fascinating,” Stobbe recalled since. In Kabul, Stobbe visited sites where kings had been buried, walked the area famed for young “kite runners” (as in the movie), visited a ministry to blind villagers, training them to become self-sufficient economically.
“I’ve also led writing workshops in Germany, Wales, Manila, Singapore,” he revealed. As a literary agent, Stobbe sends many proposals of publishable quality to publishers, working with authors on book titles and proposals, a stumbling block for many authors.
Stobbe prefers to work with “feel-good” stories. In fact, so does Sally Apokedak, an associate agent with Stobbe, who specializes in working with authors of manuscripts geared toward younger readers. For over a dozen years, she has been studying, reviewing and marketing children’s books. For instance, among middle-grade-level book manuscripts, she is looking for books about boy scientists.  “Boy scientists and boy geniuses are great,” Apokedak notes.
“According to Stobbe, “Sally’s focus is getting morally-clean books into the general sector market. She wants to publish uplifting stories.”
Among the many books that Stobbe has helped get published are Merlin’s Shadow, Notes From a Doctor’s Pocket, An Amish Family Christmas, Living Stones, Grounded in the Faith, and Beneath the Dover Sky. Stobbe, who noted, “It’s our (his and Rita’s) policy to get involved in a church very quickly. When the couple moved to Tryon, they became involved with the Tryon Presbyterian Church. Les Stobbe, a one-time acting minister, has been clerk of the session and frequent liturgist. He’s also a member of the local Rotary Club.
When the Foothills Music Club needed publicity for a TFAC fundraising concert, Stobbe was asked to help with publicity. He interviewed all nine performers, writing articles that appeared every week in the Tryon Daily Bulletin. He was gratified to see all seats filled for the concert.
All this is from an individual who laments that he has not been as involved with community, as he’d like!

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox