Learnings From the Most Translated Living Author Ever

Paulo Coelho was confused when he was a boy. He wanted to be a writer, but his parents disapproved of that profession. His mother told him that his father was an engineer and that he was to become an attorney. Because he rebelled, Paulo, who grew up in Brazil, was admitted to an insane asylum three times and was subject to “shock therapy.” But he escaped each time.

After he got out of the mental institution, he gave up his quest to become a writer and studied law for a while. But he never lost his interest in writing.

In 1986, he walked the 500 plus mile Road of Santiago de Compostela between France and Spain. While doing so, the seeds of The Alchemist were planted. After the hike, he wrote The Pilgrimage, an autobiographical novel, and then followed it up in 1987 with El Alquimista (The Alchemist). This latter book has been translated into 80 languages and has sold 84 million copies. It took off after he had written his book, Brida.

Along the way, he has become the most translated living author ever.

The moral of the story , The Alchemist, is similar to Acres of Diamonds , by Russell Conwell. You don’t find riches externally – you find them within. “Listen to your heart” is the theme that is repeated throughout the book. Or, as Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces , would say, “Follow your bliss.”

Coelho was born in 1947 in Buenos Aires and was brought up Catholic. He abandoned the faith but later came back to it. After he dropped out of law school, he lived as a hippie for a while, started using drugs, and was later arrested for “subversive” activities. At times, he was also involved with magic and the occult.

While walking the trail, he had a “spiritual awakening.” So he abandoned a lucrative career as a lyricist and became a novelist.

The Alchemist originally had a small run of 900 books. So he went to a publisher, knocked on his door, and told him that he had a book that wasn’t doing well but had a huge amount of potential. HarperCollins went on to pick it up in 1994 – and ran with it.

Have you ever wanted something so badly that your desire kept you going? Sure you have. That appears to have been the case with Coelho. He wrote, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” After he wrote that, he knew he had to make his career as a writer a reality.

For a guy who has sold over 210 million copies of his books, he’s not resting. Since The Alchemist , he has written a novel every two years. He blogs three times a week and is not naïve to the power of social media. He is the writer with the highest number of social media followers: 29.5 million fans on Facebook and 12.2 million on Twitter.

He has written over 25 books in all. His books are fictional – although they are written from his life experiences. He was influenced by Kahlil Gibran , Henry Miller, Jorge Luis Borges and Jorge Amado. He loves walking and archery and is intrigued with “the mystery of being alive,” he says.

I love his quote “If a man understands that he is worthy of what he has struggled so long for, he will realize that he did not get there alone and must respect the Hand that led him.”

This sounds similar to the bible verse in the fifth chapter of Romans. “…we glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.” Another bible passage that The Alchemist resonates with is “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21).

Related: Are Smartphones Creating the Demise of the Literary World?

Many think The Alchemist is a mix of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, The Bible and 1001 Arabian Nights.

Coelho’s philosophy is that a book – or any piece of art for that matter – is a bridge. He has said that “Tears are words waiting to be written.”

Follow Your Dream. Listen to your heart.

Even though many people on Goodreads were underwhelmed with The Alchemist , it is rated 3.82 (out of 4) on that site. Many thought it was just inspirational literature dressed up as an adventure quest. When a book is that popular, there are bound to be some detractors. The bottom line is, the success of The Alchemist has allowed Paulo Coelho to continue to do what he wants to do – follow his heart.