Intervju med Coelho i New York Times
A WORD WITH: PAULO COEHLO
Best-Selling Author Gives Away His Work
New York Times
A publishing industry that is being transformed by all
things digital could learn some things from Paulo Coelho, the
64-year-old Brazilian novelist. Years ago he upended conventional
wisdom in the book business by pirating his own work, making
it available online in countries where it was not easily found,
using the argument that ideas should be disseminated free. More
recently he has proved that authors can successfully build their
audiences by reaching out to readers directly through social media.
He ignites conversations about his work by discussing it with his
fans while he is writing
That philosophy has helped him sell tens of millions of books,
most prominently "The Alchemist," an allegorical novel that has
been on the New York Times best-seller list for 194 weeks and is
still a regular fixture in paperback on the front tables of
This week Mr. Coelho releases his latest novel, "Aleph," a book
that tells the story of his own epiphany while on a pilgrimage
through Asia in 2006 on the Trans-Siberian Railway. (Aleph is the
first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, with many mystical meanings.)
While Mr. Coelho spent four years gathering material for the book,
he wrote it in only three weeks.
Spreading the word about the book should be easy; he has become a
sort of Twitter mystic, writing messages
in English and his native Portuguese and building a following of
2.4 million people. (A recent example: "When your legs are tired,
walk with your heart.") In 2010 Forbes named him the
second-most-influential celebrity on Twitter, behind only Justin
continues to give his work away free by linking to Web sites that
have posted his books, asking only that if readers like the book,
they buy a copy, "so we can tell to the industry that sharing
contents is not life threatening to the book business," as he wrote
in one post.
From his home in Geneva, Mr. Coelho spoke about his new book, his
feeling of connection to Jorge Luis Borges and his leisure time
spent networking with his fans on Facebook and Twitter. Following
are edited excerpts.
Q. The protagonist of your new novel, "Aleph,"
sounds familiar: best-selling author, world traveler, spiritual
seeker. How autobiographical is this book?
A. One hundred percent. These are my whole
experiences, meaning everything that is real is real. I had to
summarize much of it. But in fact I see the book as my journey
myself, not as a fiction book but as a nonfiction book.
Q. The title of the book, "Aleph," mirrors the
name of a short story by Borges. Were you influenced by him?
A. He is my icon, the best writer in the world of
my generation. But I wasn't influenced by him, I was influenced by
the idea of aleph, the concept. In the classic tradition of
spiritual books Borges summarizes very, very well the idea of this
point where everything becomes one thing only.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A. It took me 40 years to write my first book.
When I was a child, I was encouraged to go to school. I was not
encouraged to follow the career of a writer because my parents
thought that I was going to starve to death. They thought nobody
can make a living from being a writer in Brazil. They were not
wrong. But I still had this call, this urge to express myself in
Q. Your most famous book, "The Alchemist," has
sold 65 million copies worldwide. Does its continuing success
A. Of course. It's difficult to explain why. I
think you can have 10,000 explanations for failure, but no good
explanation for success.
Q. You've also had success distributing your work
free. You're famous for posting pirated version of your books
online, a very unorthodox move for an author.
A. I saw the first pirated edition of one of my
books, so I said I'm going to post it online. There was a difficult
moment in Russia; they didn't have much paper. I put this first
copy online and I sold, in the first year, 10,000 copies there. And
in the second year it jumped to 100,000 copies. So I said, "It is
working." Then I started putting other books online, knowing that
if people read a little bit and they like it, they are going to buy
the book. My sales were growing and growing, and one day I was at a
high-tech conference, and I made it public.
Q. Weren't you afraid of making your publisher
A. I was afraid, of course. But it was too late.
When I returned to my place, the first phone call was from my
publisher in the U.S. She said, "We have a problem."
Q. You're referring to Jane Friedman, who was
then the very powerful chief executive of HarperCollins?
A. Yes, Jane. She's tough. So I got this call
from her, and I said, "Jane, what do you want me to do?" So she
said, let's do it officially, deliberately. Thanks to her my life
in the U.S. changed.
Q. And now you're a writer with one of the most
prominent profiles online. Are you a Twitter addict?
A. Yes, I confess, in public. I tweet in the
morning and the evening. To write 12 hours a day, there is a moment
when you're really tired. It's my relaxing time.
Q. That seems to be the opposite approach of
writers like Jonathan Franzen who blindfold themselves and write
their books in isolation.
A. Back to the origins of writing, they used to
see writers as wise men and women in an ivory tower, full of
knowledge, and you cannot touch them. The ivory tower does not
exist anymore. If the reader doesn't like something they'll tell
you. He's not or she's not someone that is isolated.
Once I found this possibility to use Twitter and Facebook and my
blog to connect to my readers, I'm going to use it, to connect to
them and to share thoughts that I cannot use in the book. Today I
have on Facebook six million people. I was checking the other day
Madonna's page, and she has less followers than I have. It's
Q. You're bigger than Madonna?
A. No, no, no. I'm not saying that.