Visionary Flop to Best Seller

Visionary Flop to BestsellerWhat if I were to tell you that one of the best selling books in history is visionary fiction?

Say what?

Yep, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, one of the most widely read books in the world, is visionary fiction. And its rise from a flop in 1988 (with sales so dismal that the book was dropped by its publisher) to record-breaking best seller (sixty-five million copies sold and three hundred weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list) started before most readers had even heard of VF as a genre.

Seems genre doesn’t matter when it comes to bestsellerdom. Write a great story and readers won’t care. Anywhere.

Proof?

The Alchemist is one of the most translated books by a living author. In fifty-six different languages! How’s that for international?

Limpid Visionary Fable

So how does a limpid little fable, deemed “more self-help than literature” by The New York Times, become such a phenomenon?

I mean, what’s the secret? How’d Coelho do it?

Is The Alchemist’s unparalleled success due to Coelho’s guerrilla marketing and kick-ass blog tours? How about the draw of sex? It worked for Fifty Shades of Grey. Or horror as in Misery? Or violence  as in A Game of Thrones? Or maybe his accomplishment is due to celebrity support. We know that Oprah likes him, so that must be the answer.

Hold it. Not so fast.

Paulo Coelho says “no” to all of the above.

But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.

Visionary Readers and Writers Take Heart

Okay, if the word-of-mouth phenomenon worked for all writers, then every well-written book would be a best seller. Right? And, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have Oprah, Madonna, Bill Clinton, Julia Roberts, and Pharrell Williams on your side.

But take heart visionary fiction writers. If you write a great book (as defined by loyal readers not literary experts), there’s hope that your life’s work may become a word-of-mouth hit. Maybe not in the sixty-five million category, but in a category satisfying enough to show you that you’re on the right track.

Which should alert all readers to the power they exert collectively over what type of books shoot to the top of the heap and thus continue to be written – and read.

No incentive like success to encourage writers to write fiction that heals, empowers, and bridges differences.

You got it. I’m talking visionary fiction.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ~Paulo Coelho.

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About Margaret Duarte

Although warned by agents and publishers that labeling her work Visionary Fiction was the “kiss of death,” Margaret Duarte refused to concede. “In a world riddled with fear, misunderstanding, and lost hope,” she says, “I believe there are people prepared to transcend the boundaries of their five senses and open to new thoughts and ideas. The audience is ready for fiction that heals, empowers, and bridges differences.” Margaret joined forces with other visionary fiction writers to create the Visionary Fiction Alliance, a website dedicated to bringing visionary fiction into the mainstream and providing visionary fiction writers with a place to call home. In December 2015, Margaret launched BETWEEN WILL AND SURRENDER, book one of her "Enter the Between" visionary fiction series. Through her novels, which synthesize heart and mind, science and spirituality, Margaret encourages readers to activate their gifts, retire their excuses, and stand in their own authority. Margaret is a former middle school teacher and lives on a California dairy farm with her family and a herd of "happy cows," a constant reminder that the greenest pastures are closest to home.
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40 Responses to Visionary Flop to Best Seller

  1. It's interesting that there are a plethora of how to articles and books on how to market your novel. Yet, I haven't seen many, or any, on the elusive phenomenon, or 'how to', of word-of-mouth. A how to for word-of-mouth probably defies linear instructions.

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    • So true, Jodine. Today, I read an article titled "Scientists Find Secret to Writing a Best Seller," in which a particular group of scientists claim to be able to predict with 84% accuracy whether a book will be a commercial success. Some of their findings? Avoid clichés and excessive use of words. Also use lots of conjunctions and nouns and adjectives. Ummm, so what about story? What about emotional connection between book and reader?

      As a visionary fiction writer, I'm more in tune with Coelho, who said, "Then, one day, I write this book that is, let's be honest, much better than I am. So one day, you manifest something. This is the real alchemy. And everybody has this possibility." Coelho has published over 30 books and only one of them turned out to be the all-time winner.

      Add to that the words of ghost writer Lynette Padwa: "…being a bestseller is by no means the only worthwhile gauge of a book’s value. Before my clients get too distracted plotting their strategy for attaining bestsellerdom, I like to make a promise I know I can keep:'We will write a terrific book. That’s a goal worth having whether you sell 1,000 copies a year or 100,000.'"

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      • libredux says:

        "Then, one day, I write this book that is, let’s be honest, much better than I am."

        I like this Coelho quote Margaret. Thanks for sharing it!

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      • Admin - Eleni says:

        "Then, one day, I write this book that is, let’s be honest, much better than I am.”

        I relate to that in all my books. They all end at a destination that I'm constantly worked towards.

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  2. Ellen Moss says:

    Thank you. Your words are encouraging. Only one person has reviewed my visionary fiction novel, Quantum Venus & the Magic Theatre. Nobody is reading it. But it is really a great visionary expression of life and death in action. Please, won't someone from the visionary fiction community check it out. I illustrated it as well as wrote it. At the moment, it is only on Kindle.

    Thank you in advance if you bother to check it out. I wish you happy and inspired reading.
    e

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    • Hi Ellen. Reviews come slowly, but add up over time. I read somewhere that the best reviews come from readers so excited about your work that they can't hold back. Their comments come from the gut and are worth waiting for. It took 27 years for "The Alchemist" to become the sensation it is. As I wrote to Jodine above, Paulo Coelho published 30 other books, not all of them a success.

      I tell myself repeatedly that if my novel touches people emotionally, it will do well. In the mean time, I continue to write. Because if book number one doesn't cut it (which is usually the case with first novels), maybe the next one will.

      In the mean time, you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket. Do you have an author website (a hub) where readers can find out more about you and your book (I searched for your name online and couldn't find it)? If readers don't know "Quantum Venus & the Magic Theatre" is out there, they certainly won't have the pleasure of reading it.

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  3. Peggy Payne says:

    I ran across a copy of it in French in a local North Carolina used book store. Bought it and read it as well as I could. Speaks well of a book's reach that a French copy got to me in Chapel Hill.

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    • In the above post I mentioned that "The Alchemist" has been translated into 56 different languages, but the Huffington Post puts it at 80. I didn't know there were that many languages in the world, let alone such a diversity of readers. Nothing like used book stores to find treasures. Can you imagine, Peggy, having a copy of the book in 80 languages? Wonder if Paulo Coelho does.

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  4. libredux says:

    Margaret, thanks for this article. Coelho is quite right to imply that since his book contained something powerful, that was enough to make it succeed by word of mouth. So what if it took a while? Better late than never. There is too much emphasis in commercial publishing in having a book sell well within a few precious months of release. It's all part of that short-term-must -have-it-now culture.

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    • Well put, Saleena. Something special, something powerful, in Coelho's book struck a chord with over sixty-five million readers. This didn't come about through clever marketing. He didn't need to coax or trick people into buying his book. At some point, it was out of his hands, and in the hands of his readers. Fate? Luck? More than that, I'd say. And it didn't happen in three months. Bet the publisher who dropped "The Alchemist" regrets the decision every day. And "Way to go!" to the publisher who took a chance on Paul Coelho.

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  5. I just love this post. The Alchemist finally found its way. I also like your comment about your definition of a great book: "as defined by loyal readers not literary experts." I couldn't agree more. Thanks for this.

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  6. The mystery of what makes a book sell, remains a mystery. My favorite Coelho is Brida. Mine is highlighted and marked up throughout.

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  7. esdragon2 says:

    Yes, I am, one of the 85 million who read the Alchemist some years ago.

    A few years later in Skyros whereI was doing a brilliant writing course, (led by an author/editor friend) a book almost fell of the shelf. This was the very morning I'd been asked to say a few words after breakfast at the Demos. (Very Greek!) The book opened at a page where a poem met my eyes. It so encapsulated everything about our group and the island itself, that I read it out loud to all those present. The poem was 'Ithaca', and it begins, 'When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that the road is long, full on adventure, full on knowledge. …. and ends, ' Ithacar has given you the beautiful voyage. Without her you would never have set out on the road. She has nothing more to give you.'

    Coelho chose this poem to open "The Zahir." Much as I relished reading The Alchemist, his novel of obsession, The Zahir, thrilled and engaged me far more. For me, at least, a much greater piece of V F writing.

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    • Thanks for bringing "The Zahir" to my attention, Esme. I didn't know about this book by Coelho. Looks like I'll be adding it to my reading list. And that writing course in Skyros sounds like a dream come true for a writer.

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      • Esme Ellis says:

        Sure was! So much on the island of Skyros itself. It's where Odysseus is supposed to have set out on his journey as well as a 1st W W English poet, (forgotten his name, Was it Rupert Brooke?) is buried. My writer/editor friend, Crysse Morrison, edited my last V F novel, 'Strange and Precious Thing',

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  8. Wow, Esme. I read about The Writers’ Lab in Skyros island, Greece, on Crysse's website. What a dream to be part of something that "offers writers, thinkers and dabblers the opportunity to learn from distinguished writers, share the joys and struggles of the creative process, discover their strengths and polish their skills." I'd love to hear more about your experience. Did you happen to write about it anywhere? Also, is Crysse taking on more clients for her "novel surgeries"? If so, we could add her to our list of resources here at VFA for visionary fiction writers.

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  9. I got my October issue of "Oprah Magazine" today (one of the only magazines I can't manage to throw away. I have years of issues in storage) and, low and behold, there on page 142 was "Oprah Talks to Paulo Coelho." For all you writers out there, I loved when he said, "I saw so many writers paralyzed by failure, but also by success. They wrote one successful book, and then they stopped writing. I continue to write because I'm enthusiastic about my work." And later in the interview, he said, "There is a Zen proverb that says, basically, if you want something, step aside and let this thing come to you." The exact words I needed to hear today. To which Oprah replied, "So we need willpower and enthusiasm, but then we need to surrender." Wow, I thought, these words are almost the exact words my protagonist uses at the end of my novel, "Between Will and Surrender."

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  10. Admin - Eleni says:

    I was talking to my writing friend in my group who talked about persistence. Keep writing, forget about impressing people, write a great story, and keep writing them.

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    • You're so right Eleni. Write your heart out and then, as Paulo said, "…step aside and let this thing come to you."

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      • esdragon2 says:

        Wow! Many thanks for this affirmation. And yes, Crysse is amazing, and one couldn't have a better friend. The thing is, D.W. A is published by Lulu at the moment, but could easily be obtained from them at lulu.com or .co.uk — or I cd mail one on to you if you'd rather.

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  11. esdragon2 says:

    A little quibble on Oprah's use of 'willpower'. A word far from Zen. Will is connected to ego, and maybe perseverance and/or determination hit it better. Yes, step aside and let it come to you. I love that! Have belief in yourself and never let failure or success induce you to give up.

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    • There's a place for willpower (and yes, maybe a better word for willpower would be perseverance or determination). I believe that's what Paulo meant when he said, "…at certain moments you need to have discipline, and in others, you need to be guided by life." My personal take on this: It's a balance, between will and surrender.

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  12. esdragon2 says:

    On Crysse's website, Margaret, you may be more up to date with her availability for private mentoring and writer's groups. Last time I spoke to her she was taking time out to concentrate on her own stuff; putting on her own plays, her monthly poetry groups at the Garden Cafe in Frome, her work with the Theatre in Frome, etc.

    I've only written a bit about her 'in passing', P 81 in Dreaming Worlds Awake, and that was yet another coincidence. She'd come to see me and remarked, as, wearing her editorial hat, she read a couple of chapters I'd just written, and with a smile playing over her face, she said; Esme, I think this is going to sound like another of your Synchronicities. I've just written a poem on this very piece of sculpture you're writing about here. I began it on the train coming down to Bath!' The poem was headed 'Jacob Meets the Angel', (after Epstein's statue.)

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  13. Crysse sounds like an amazing woman. And I love the title (and subject) of your book, "Dreaming Worlds Awake." Looks like I'll be adding another book to my reading list.

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  14. esdragon2 says:

    Seems like Coelho has had quite an effect on us all.

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  15. Jim Murdoch says:

    Let's keep in mind that what contributed most to Paulo's success was that he kept writing and publishing books. The Alchemist rode on the success of later books before it took off on its own. So lesson learned – keep writing, no matter what.

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  16. I so agree, Jim. We can't expect our first book – or our only book – to breakout. Who knows what will hit readers in just the right way? "…keep writing, no matter what."

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  17. Paula Cappa says:

    We had a guest speaker at our Authors Society, a 40-year publishing veteran who was a lit agent and publishing exec at some of the top publishers in country, and over 100 of her authors hit the best seller lists. She said that word of mouth was still the best way to sell books; social media does NOT sell books unless you already have a huge readership established to pitch to; and right now there are more writers putting out books than readers are reading them. She also said that many of today's best selling authors were well established writers (Coehlo) before we all went digital and they will continue to hold down that market. New writers today have a much harder time reaching even substantial sales without major advertising campaigns, AND you have to have a REALLY GOOD book. I like Jodine's comment, is there a "how to" for word of mouth. I find that's where my sales are too but it's a really slow grind.

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    • esdragon2 says:

      Sadly, I was told this very same thing by a publisher/lit. agent maybe 20 years ago, i.e. that there are more writers putting out their wares than readers to read them. And anyway, who says what a 'really good book' is? This same publisher let slip that a 'really good book' is one that sells. In other words, it has to look like a commercial success before they'll touch it. So presumably this is what we're meant to aim for; write a commercially successful book. Yet Eleni's point about 'forget about impressing people, and just write a great story,' is, for me, the only way to go. But even if we do manage that, our potential readers need to be open to 'hearing' the message we are striving to convey in our writing; they need to be already at that state of consciousness where they are ready to receive it – or close enough to be further awakened. No wonder this business is a slow grind!

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    • Hi Paula. I strongly believe that having a REALLY GOOD book should be every author's number one goal. We need to write the best story we can, polish it to a fine sheen, and then let it go. I have friends who sing and play in bands and have never reached stardom. But they're doing what they enjoy and play in front of crowds (even small crowds) whenever they can. Maybe, someday, one of them will break out, but I don't think they're holding their breath. Same goes for my artist friends, who show their paintings and sculptures in art shows and are gratified by the positive response of spectators, if not lining their pockets with cash. I see joy in my artist friends' eyes. And isn't that the true meaning of life? In today's paper I read an article about software that helps write a new novel. All a writer has to do is answer 11 questions and the software will automatically draft a plot. Is that the kind of writing that comes from the heart and brings joy? Guess time will tell, but in my book, writing by formula is sort of like painting by number. Sort of heartless, even if it does sell. I, too, like Jodine's comment and think it would make a great title for a blog post. "Is there a 'how to' for word of mouth?"

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  18. Well said, Esme."…our potential readers need to be open to ‘hearing’ the message we are striving to convey in our writing; they need to be already at that state of consciousness where they are ready to receive it – or close enough to be further awakened." In a way, that's what we're trying to do at VFA, introduce (awaken) readers to a genre that may not currently be part of their consciousness. Though by the looks of it, with books like "The Bone Clocks," coming out as almost instant big hits under the metaphysical/visionary category and shows like "Resurrection" coming out as new series on TV, we might be on the cusp of something new and something big. I go back to Coelho's quote: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” As visionary fiction writers, this belief that we're backed by the universe will encourage us to trudge on in this "slow grind" of a business.

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    • esdragon2 says:

      I like this very much. Yes, I so agree, and from personal experience, that the Universe acts on our side helping us to achieve our 'dreams?" — and in the most unexpected ways, sometimes.

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  19. jochandler says:

    Dearest Margaret,
    Great blog, very visionary fiction in its theme–in a manner of speaking. Your words, and Coelho's ultimate success, are encouraging. I, too, believe in the positive force of the universe. In fact, I'm counting on it.

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  20. Hi Jo. Nice to see you here! May the positive force of the universe be with us both.

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