In the foreword to the 25th anniversary of The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho writes about how the book was a miserable failure when it first came out.
It barely sold.
His original publisher cancelled his contract, but let him keep the rights to the book. So there he was, 41 years old, a failed writer.
But he never lost faith in The Alchemist, or wavered in his vision.
This, at least is what he would have us believe.
“Why?” he asks. “Because it was me in there, all of me, heart and soul … I was following my Personal Legend, and my treasure was my capacity to write.”
A second publisher took a chance on him, and The Alchemist eventually found its audience. Thousands of copies sold in the year after its release, largely–according to the author–by word of mouth.
In what may have seemed like his big break, HarperCollins agreed to publish the book in the United States, taking out advertisements in the New York Times and in newsmagazines.
Coelho was interviewed on television and on the radio, which at the time was a big deal. Sales were initially modest, but then The Alchemist became a sensation.
A photographer captured Bill Clinton with a copy outside the White House. Madonna spoke about the novel in an interview with *Vanity Fair.*
Suddenly, everyone was talking about it.
As Coelho set out to promote the 25th anniversary edition, The Alchemist had sold more than 65 million copies and been translated into more than 80 languages.
“When I sat down to write The Alchemist, all I knew is that I wanted to write about my soul,” he writes.
“I wanted to write about my quest to find my treasure. I wanted to follow the omens, because I knew even then that the omens are the language of God.”
The lesson here is not that every writer who perseveres will have success.
It’s that success only comes with perseverence.
A body of work is built one word at a time, sentence by sentence, book by book.
You don’t get credit just for showing up, and neither do I. But if we don’t show up, we can’t do our work.
And this is the work we must do.
Coelho hints that The Alchemist resonates because it is a universal story, one that speaks to our souls.
“[I]t continues to live every day, because my heart and soul are in it,” he writes.
“And my heart and soul is your heart and soul …. The story of one person is the story of everyone, and one man’s quest is the quest of all humanity.”
It’s not always wise to bear your soul, because most people will not be gentle with it.
But if you’re inclined to write, it’s important to write.
If you have a voice, it’s important to use it. Failure may come, and it may crush you.
It may also help you find your true self. Then you will find the stories you should be telling, the truths you can’t keep bottled up.
And like Coelho, your soul may brush against a few million others just when they need it to.
It may help them keep going, too.