In the spring of 1988, a meeting at the Argumento bookstore in the trendy Leblon neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, would help spark the global success of the best-known Brazilian writer of our time. It was there, among the shelves of Argumento, that Paulo Coelho had a fortuitous encounter with publisher Paulo Rocco.
“Coelho approached me and said he had two books published by a small house that had no interest in working with him anymore,” recalls Mr. Rocco. “We followed up with a meeting, where I had to face the deal’s demands: I had to buy the remaining stock, I had to buy the films, and I had to launch the first book before Christmas.”
Rocco agreed, and added The Pilgrimage and The Alchemist to Editora Rocco’s catalogue.
This May marks 30 years since Eco, an obscure Brazilian publishing house, first published the The Alchemist. The small publisher would give up the future mega-selling author just six months later. And in the three decades since it was first published, the book has gone on to sell tens of millions of copies worldwide in more than 80 languages, including more than 20 million copies sold in English alone.
How did Coelho go from an obscure writer published by a small Brazilian publisher, to one of the world’s bestselling, and most beloved authors? Marcos Pereira, publisher of Sextante, which holds the Portuguese rights for The Alchemist in Brazil, credits Coelho’s international success to a few factors.
“The book was embraced in France by Anne Carrière, daughter of publisher Robert Laffont, who launched The Alchemist just after starting her own house,” he says. “Then there was the work of Monica Antunes, Coelho’s exclusive agent, who convinced some of the most important publishers in the world to publish the book.”
And then, of course, there was the author himself, Pereira says. “During the six years we were Coelho’s publishing house in Brazil, I saw personally the effort Coelho puts into the promotion of his books, work that is reflected in the work of the whole company.”
Rocco agrees with Pereira. “Paulo Coelho was always present during the publication process, always participating in all the phases,” he says. “His participation was key, and we exchanged opinions all the time. It was a successful partnership.”
Now, 30 years after the The Alchemist, Coelho is back with a new work: Hippie will be published in Brazil by Companhia das Letras in May, and by Knopf in the U.S. on September 25.
The autobiographical novel tells the story of a train journey that Coelho took from Amsterdam to Istanbul in 1970.
“Hippie is Paulo Coelho’s most autobiographical work, which makes it very special,” says Companhia das Letras’ editor Matinas Suzuki. “In the book, the author transits between moments of love and discovery and moments of despair and high tension, which become more powerful as the reader places Coelho himself in the story.”