The Alchemist was first released by an obscure Brazilian publishing house. Albeit having sold "well", the publisher of the book told Coelho that it was never going to sell, and that "he could make more money in the stock exchange".
Needing to "heal" himself from this setback, Coelho set out to leave Rio de Janeiro with his wife and spent 40 days in the Mojave Desert. Returning from the excursion, Coelho decided he had to keep on struggling. Coelho was "so convinced it was a great book that [he] started knocking on doors".
The Alchemist has been translated into 67 distinct different languages according to The New York Times. This gave Coelho the position as the world's most translated living author, according to the 2009 Guinness World Records.
Paulo Coelho is a strong advocate of spreading his books through peer-to-peer file sharing networks. He put his own books on file-sharing networks like BitTorrent, and noted that The Alchemist received a boost in sales due to this. He stated that "I do think that when a reader has the possibility to read some chapters, he or she can always decide to buy the book later." Currently, chapters from The Alchemist can be found on Google Books and Coelho's agency Sant Jordi Associados.