Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Les Stobbe: A Life of Mining Literary Gold (Please use this version)
He’s worked with Bill Bright, Ken Taylor and Jerry Jenkins and is now helping unknown writers
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
PHILADELPHIA, PA (ANS) -- Canadian-born Les Stobbe is a man who has spent his life mining literary gold and although he is now into his eighties, he is still as busy as ever. He says that his life’s mission is “cheering on authors,” and he has certainly done that in his rather amazing life.
“I grew up in British Columbia with the German-speaking Mennonite Brethren and graduated from their schools. After my second year at the University of British Columbia I was working in a silver, lead and zinc mine in Northern British Columbia,” he said. “I first helped one of the guys blasting the ore out. Then I helped run it out in the ore cars. I also helped put up the logs to keep the ceiling from falling down. So I had quite a bit of experience. But then the man in charge of the health of the miners had a heart attack and was shipped out. I had taken the St. John’s ambulance course so I was able to take over as first aid man and warehouse man. During one week before the Lord and in his Word He made it clear to me that I was to be His messenger on a worldwide basis.
“Two weeks later we as cousins and friends went mountain climbing. During that climb a rock hit me on the left knee and split my femur. I ended up in hospital, flat on my back for three and a half months, never off the bed.
We’re jumping ahead, so how did you get the job at Christian Life?
Les Stobbe explained that he had moved to the US Midwest from Canada and had been able to get a job working at Moody Press in Chicago, where he became the manager of the selling floor at the Moody Bookstore.
“While there, my manager brought me a plain brown envelope. He said Ken Taylor, who was then the director of Moody Press, would like me to evaluate what was in it and report at the editorial committee meeting. When I opened the envelope at home, out came a new translation of First Timothy.”
Was this was the same Ken Taylor who eventually wrote the Living Bible?
I then asked Stobbe when he first recognized that he was dealing with something quite incredible.
“I realized it was a good paraphrase, but it needed a little help, which I discussed with him, but I had no idea how big a deal it was going to become,” he told me. “The interesting thing is that he later invited me to come to the offices on the seventh floor to evaluate in coming manuscripts. Eventually I was given the whole Living Epistles and asked if I would edit them.
“So I edited several pages and I finally said that this was too much work for me as I was already doing two jobs -- running a bookstore along with manuscript evaluation. So I gave it back to him. Well he got a wonderful editor, Virginia Muir, to help him.”
Eventually Ken Taylor left Moody and started Tyndale House Publishers, who published the whole Living Bible in 1971. Unlike most English Bibles, The Living Bible was a paraphrase. Mr. Taylor used the American Standard Version of 1901 as his base text.
From the very beginning of its publication, Taylor had assigned the copyright to Tyndale House Foundation, so all of the royalties from sales of The Living Bible were given to charity.
In the late 1980s, Taylor and his colleagues at Tyndale House Publishers invited a team of 90 Greek and Hebrew scholars to participate in a project of revising the text of The Living Bible. After many years of work, the result was an entirely new translation of the Bible. It was published in 1996 as the Holy Bible: New Living Translation (NLT).
Stobbe became editor of the Christian Bookseller Magazine in 1962 and had an opportunity to promote The Living Epistles.
“I went into his garage and took a picture of him with a load of his Living Epistles in his arms and put the photo into the Christian Bookseller Magazine to help promote it to the booksellers,” said Stobbe.
If that wasn’t enough, Les Stobbe was also involved with a then young writer called Jerry Jenkins, who went on to co-author the Left Behind book series with Tim LaHaye.
Let’s jump forward and hear about that.
“Well I became editorial director and then president of Here’s Life Publishers of Campus Crusade in San Bernardino, California, which was the Bill Bright publishing subsidiary. When they sold that to Thomas Nelson in 1992, I needed to look for a job, eventually ending up at Scripture Press as managing editor of the curriculum department for a couple of years. When they sold themselves to David C. Cook Publishing I ended up with Vision New England, which used to be called Evangelistic Association of New England, doing communications and marketing.
“Fortunately for us that was close to where our son and his family lived,” he said. “So we enjoyed New England and I became very active in Grace Chapel in Lexington. But when this country experienced the .com bust, as we call it, the foundations couldn’t pay my salary at Vision New England so I was going to be let go. At that point Jerry Jenkins contacted me through an email that announced he’d purchased Christian Writer’s Guild from Norm Rohrer, who had founded it back in 1965.
“I wrote back and congratulated him. He responded, ‘I want you on my editorial board.’ Well, that led to him having me evaluate the Guild’s lessons. He eventually asked me to write new Apprentice lessons. At the time, the lessons were thirty-seven years old and they were still in the typewriter age and we were in the computer age. So I felt they needed a totally new face. And God had given me all these years in journalism, with all kinds of experiences that were then brought together to write thirty-four of the fifty lessons for the Apprentice Course of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writer’s Guild.”
I then wanted to Les to talk about what it was like to work with Bill Bright.
“His approach was very positive and, of course, if that person had read the Four Spiritual Laws, he had a visual diagram of what it meant to have Christ on your throne instead of Satan. So it was a combination of words and visual that worked extremely effectively as persons were prepared by the Holy Spirit to accept the message.”
Stobbe said that he also worked on a book with Bill Bright and his wife, Vonette, on a book on marriage.
Now after all these years in publishing, Les Stobbe has moved into the world of being a literary agent and now runs the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency (http://www.stobbeliterary.com.)
Stobbe explained, “As a literary agent I constantly work with writers and try to help them prepare for publication. I work to introduce them to editors at various publishing houses. God has let me see some unusual books get published.”
“A recent one is called Angels in the ER. Dr. Robert Leslie MD had collected stories from 25 years of running emergency room departments in hospitals. The book was published by Harvest House, who introduced it to Choice Books,” he said. “Those people put it in their inspirational books racks in airports and Laundromats and supermarkets and they have close to 200,000 copies sold by now.
“The second book, Angels on Call, sold 45,000 in the first five months and there’s more coming. The latest is called Angels and Heroes, which features first responders.”
You’ve seen huge changes in the publishing business. Are you pessimistic about where it’s all going at the moment?
Stobbe replied, “Not really, in fact I’m optimistic, and here’s the reason. All the fears generated by the coming of the e-Book are based on the e-Book supplanting the printed book that you hold in your hand. When television became popular I was in a meeting with the American Book Publishers and they were crying the blues because television was going to ‘rob us of the book readers.’ But in fact, all it did was increase the number of book readers.
“Last year’s sales in publishing were up 4.6 percent. So they’re still selling and the e-Book is actually increasing the demand for books. The interesting thing is that fiction is the big winner in this battle, though you’d never guess it by the books on the ECPA bestseller list, where non-fiction books dominate. I’ve read that eighty percent of e-Book sales are fiction—young adult fiction and adult fiction. And I think part of it is that in our desperate economy people are looking for an escape. Women are reading a lot of romance in e-Book form as well as in print form.”
He went on to say, “While I do accept new clients, I also have to be careful that I don’t overdo it. I do turn down a lot of writers, but God has continued to use me to help writers get published.”
Stobbe concluded by saying, “I believe that the newly created writing public through the e-Book digital form is going to mean that writers will be getting into more substantial books. You know, while The Late Great Planet Earth (co-authored by Hal Lindsey and Carole C. Carlson) was selling millions upon millions, it also created the demand for people to also get hold of a Bible. We’re talking the early seventies, so The Living Bible met that demand, especially with young people.
“Not surprisingly, people reading The Living Bible and The Late Great Planet Earth decided they needed reference books—and reference book sales tripled in some cases. As a result, Christian publishing took a major leap forward in the early seventies.”
Les Stobbe has refused to retire and says he plans to continue as long as he can keep on mining the gold in the Christian literary world.
He can be contacted by visiting his website, www.stobbeliterary.com, where he has posted submission guidelines.
Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
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