Paulo Coelho: How did his book sell over 150 million copies?

“When you truly want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” That’s the famous quote from Paulo Coelho’s bestseller “The Alchemist.”

Coelho was 14 years old when he decided to become a writer. But his parents misguidedly believed that anyone who entered the field of art would turn deviant. And so, between the ages of 17 and 20, Coelho’s parents got him institutionalised in a mental facility three times!

It wasn’t until Coelho was 38 years old that he picked up his dream again and attempted to become a writer. “The Alchemist” was the second book he wrote – and he wrote it in 2 weeks flat!

(Spoilers ahead)

The book is about an Andalusian boy who has a dream in a ruined church that a treasure lies in Egypt. After a lot of life experiences, while he is digging for the treasure at the foot of the pyramids, he is beaten up by a gang of thieves. And the leader of the gang comments that not all dreams are worth chasing. The chief himself had a dream of a buried treasure under a tree in a ruined church! The treasure lay at the original dream place all along!

It’s actually not a new idea for a story. Coelho was inspired to write this story after he read Jorge Luis Borges short story “A tale of two dreams.” And Borges had himself borrowed the idea from a short story in Arabian Nights. 

When Coelho first wrote the book, it didn’t even sell that well. The publisher was so disappointed with the sales that he gave the rights back to Coelho after a year. But then suddenly serendipity happened. Harpercollins picked up the book and it ended up selling over 150 million copies!

In interviews, Paulo Coelho has commented that his life followed his book. And the universe conspired and helped him achieve his dream of becoming a writer!

If your belief in your dream is strong enough, they will come true! Right? 

The real hustle behind Paulo Coelho’s success


When Coelho’s first publisher said that he won’t reprint his book after a mere 900 copies and gave the rights to it back, Coelho was very sad and anguished. After a 40 day soul searching trip to the desert, he decided to double down. And do whatever it took to find another publisher.

He knocked doors and faced rejections. Finally another small publishing house in Brazil – Rocco – gave him a chance and republished his book. Paulo Coelho organized events after events to try and drum up sales for his book locally in Brazil. He visited multiple book stores.


At one of the events, he came across his first diehard fan: Monica Antunes. A 19 year old college student who had bought one of the 900 copies of his book and had loved it! She kept on raving about it and got a few others to read it.

Coelho took her help in organising more book events in Brazil. And a year later, when Antunes decided to move to Spain with her boyfriend- Coelho encouraged her. And he gave her a task: to try and sell “The Alchemist” in Spain – as the book was set there.

Somehow, Antunes got a book publisher to translate, publish, and distribute the book in Spain. Coelho paid her $400 per month to knock doors in Spain and promote the book there. Antunes worked hard to publicise the book in various local magazines and bookstores. 


The needle started moving when Coelho wrote his third book “Brida.” This time, the local Brazilian media started writing about his book launch as he had some success behind him. And because of it, his old book saw a significant leap in sales too!

Coelho and Antunes leveraged this publicity and decided to get his book translated in French and English as well.


Two years after that, serendipity struck. When translator Alan Clarke sent his English translated copy of the Alchemist to Harper Collins, a marketing executive was mesmerised by the beautiful cover of the book. Colm Holland read the book in one sitting and loved it. And convinced the powers that be to publish 50,000 copies of the book and distribute it widely!

Antunes worked hard and leveraged that news to get The Alchemist translated in even more languages. And got publishing deals in Japan and Russia and India!

And that’s how a failed book found new life. And 5 years later, it became an overnight success!

How can you create your overnight success?

You have to help yourself for the universe to help you! Serendipity will find you only if you’re hustling and putting in the effort to do new things. 

Paulo Coelho put in the effort in finding a new publisher when his old one backed out, and recognizing his fan and converting her into an evangelist, and going on hundreds of promotional tours, and giving tons of interviews – before Harper Collins found him.

Coelho kept on knocking doors and accepting rejections. And that’s how small wins led to bigger wins. 

The needed mindset shift

People don’t really knock on doors. And that’s because they fear rejection. That was the epiphany that Coelho realised during his 40 days in the desert. When the first time his book was published, Coelho didn’t put in the effort to promote it aggressively. Because he was afraid of failing. 

And as a result – he actually failed!

What helped Coelho to get over his fear of failure? The thought that: What if the road to success crosses right through failure? 

During his 40 days of meditation, Coelho realised that every successful person has gone through failures. When he himself has failed, his world didn’t crash and burn. But he has emerged stronger and wiser from the ashes of his failure. Success crosses through failure! So why prevent the fear of failure from stopping him from achieving his dreams?

Action Summary:

  • “Fear of failure leads to failure.” – Paulo Coelho. Reject rejection. Keep on knocking doors till you get your opportunity.
  • Encourage your true fans to help you on your journey.
  • Serendipity will happen if you keep on putting in the effort. Be in a position to make the best of your opportunities.