Dude, Where's My Horoscope?

What happens when astrological forecasts come in late? Inside the business of the extremely popular AstrologyZone.com.
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On the first of every month, horoscope fanatics flock to Astrologyzone.com, where star astrologer Susan Miller is trusted to accurately foretell the weeks ahead. Miller’s talents as a writer, not to mention that she offers the horoscopes free on her website, have earned her a cult following. When the reports arrive on time, she’s lauded as a prognostic hero and keeper of sanity. But when she is late with her goods, insults fly.

That's what happened earlier this month when the forecasts were posted a week (one-quarter of the month!) late—an eternity to those who plan life by celestial movements. Readers began commenting on Facebook—at first inquiring when the forecasts would arrive, then requesting someone from Miller’s camp post an update. Soon, the animosity grew to a fever pitch. Supporters—the Millaniacs to keep things straight—pleaded for patience as Miller was still recovering from an illness. Her detractors, the Susanistas, pointed out that the forecasts were consistently late, that she recently “attended a party in Los Angeles and looked fabulous,” and the late posts were a business ploy to drive traffic to her website, which boasts 6.5 million unique monthly readers and 20 million page views.

“I have read that every time a reader clicks on her site looking for their horoscope, they contribute to the rising cost of advertising,” emailed Seva, who has been reading Astrology Zone for three years. “It takes only a few moments to post an authentic, genuine message to your fans, not some long, drawn-out excuse detailing her never-ending often exotic illnesses which she constantly beats her readers over the head with.”

Miller, for her part, denies the allegation that the lateness is some sort of strategy. "Absolutely not. If anything, that would hurt my business," she said to me.

Think of the Millaniacs and Susanistas as the Hatfields and McCoys of astrology culture. Their weapons are words, the battlefield social media, and fortunately no shots have been fired as yet. They just really want their horoscopes on time.

* * *

July 1 became July 2, still no postings. Late on July 3, readers began to understand that with the impending holiday weekend, it would be Monday at the earliest, July 7, before they knew what the month ahead held. The reports had been posted late in prior months—March 2May 7, and June 4, according to Twitter—but this meant they would have to wait all weekend. That was when several readers took measures into their own hands. They banded together to start the Abandoned by Susan Miller (ABSM) Facebook page (now private), with the purpose of creating “a place where people who once relied on Susan Miller's work but are frustrated with her lack of professionalism can talk and find reliable astrology resources,” according to a group spokesperson.

For the true believers, the commentary battles have become impassioned. For the casual browser, leafing through the angry, often spiteful debate is pure digital schadenfreude. And for Miller, a tenacious writer who has parlayed her knowledge of the stars into a lucrative business, the backlash is an unavoidable result of an industry in which so many put their providence in the hands of one woman.

“My mission is to help my readers,” Miller told me. “There are things more important than money in the world, and the people suffering the most cannot afford to pay to enter a site, which is why I do not charge.”

Taken just from an output perspective (and a writer’s point of view), the demands of Miller’s business may make her one of the most prolific scribes alive. According to Miller, each of the free monthly forecasts averages 3,500 words, totalling some 42,000-48,000 thousand words across all signs, which she starts and finishes the last 10 days of each month. That equates to roughly 430,000 words per year. That’s only the free horoscopes; the word count does not reflect all the paid forecasts she provides for a slew of magazines.

To put that in perspective, 430,000 words is equivalent (in sheer volume) to writing Ulysses and Lolita in the same year; or spending the year penning Slaughterhouse-Five, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Middlemarch; or writing the first four Harry Potter books; or putting together nearly all of War and Peace. When it was suggested perhaps her late posts were a result of writer’s block, Miller quickly disagreed.

“I am getting my information from NASA, doing math and geometry, and I know how to interpret the results. It is not that I make up my forecasts, so I never have writer’s block,” Miller explains. “Readers don’t understand that my IT team doesn’t work just for me. They have their own business and service many clients. I finished close to on time, but it was the Fourth of July weekend and my team was off with their families.”

* * *

For many, horoscopes are viewed as balm for the disillusioned not willing to pony up for a therapist. For devoted followers, they are sage advice to guide careers, relationships and navigate personal tragedy. This is information people rely on, which they must have on the first of every month. According to Tali Edut, an astrologer and one-half of the AstroTwins, she publishes the horoscopes a few days before the first of the month as her readers also get upset if she's late.

“People who are into astrology like to ‘plan it by the planets,’” Edut says. “They want to know in advance what cosmic trends are ahead so that they can make the most out of opportunity periods and avoid potential roadblocks.”

Whether the advice is free or not, the members of ABSM claim they can no longer tolerate the way Miller runs her organization.

“What people fail to understand is that Susan Miller and Astrology Zone are a business,” emailed a spokesperson for the group. “People act as if Susan is giving her followers a ‘gift’ when in reality this is her job. She is able to charge good-sized advertising fees because of her large following and get people to pay for her App because her forecasts have historically been great.”

It’s that greatness that makes Astrology Zone's business work. Miller has developed intellectual property—the appearance of being able to calculate charts and positions of stars, and explain it all in a voice and artistry that even detractors admit is unique in the horoscope world. Readers stick around—even the ones currently claiming mutiny—for many reasons, but most important to the business: Miller is likeable. Her loquacious nature seeps into conversation, as it does her monthly forecasts. Even for those lukewarm to astrology, her charisma toward the topic behaves like a riptide, pulling one against common sense.

“What time of day were you born?” she asks several times during our interview. “Call your mother and ask her.” 

While lateness is regrettable for any business, the same readers critiquing the tardiness were commenting on the Facebook page the day after the horoscopes posted. It’s safe to say many read their July forecast. The ABSM spokesperson claimed she would not read going forward, but admitted to perusing July anyway. Two other members of the group also emailed that they read July in spite of their secession.

“My traffic never goes down,” Miller says. She’s not gloating, just explaining how the business expands each month. “It keeps going up.”

* * *

Though some mysterious entity with access to Miller’s Facebook page has made an effort to delete negative comments, one from July 8 persisted: “You can keep deleting these but we can keep posting … You made a big mistake taking your ‘dear’ public for granted for the millionth time! The ‘I'm sick and my dog ate my homework’ doesn't work for anyone anymore. Remember, in this cyber age, we can tell when you're out and looking fab, not home with a plasma drip.”

Another post: “I stopped following her on Twitter. I simply couldn't take the constant barrage of ‘poor me’ tweets about how hard she works despite being permanently on her deathbed.”

Miller’s head of customer support, Edward Rubinstein, confirmed that she’s been ill since April, as did Miller. She admits she reads much of the commentary on social media. While most are supporters, she says recent remarks by her detractors went too far.  

“Some columnists don’t care when their readers say mean things about them on Twitter and Facebook, but I do care. I read what every reader has to say, and I think about the comments later. I don’t have a thick skin,” Miller says. “One reader said, ‘I don’t believe you’re sick. Until you #DropDead I won’t believe a word you say.’ I know they’re angry at me because they don’t have the information they need to plan the month ahead.”

It’s better than reality television, this astrology culture, a sitcom in the making. On any day one group is seceding from the Zone. Another claims Susan is faking illness to allot for late forecasts. Another that Susan is immortal. Another discreetly censoring the insurgents. Another spinning conspiracy theories not worthy of print. And everyone is spending far too much time discussing horoscopes during the workday. 

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Jon Methven is a novelist based in New York City. He is the author of This Is Your Captain Speaking.

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