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Spirited Woman Interviews by Nancy Mills
Nancy Mills : Susan Miller Interview

Interview with Astrology Zone's Susan Miller

By Nancy Mills

This is my ritual. Every month at the first of the month, for the past several years, I sit down at my computer, get all cozy and read my monthly horoscope on Susan Miller's astrologyzone.com. If I didn't know better, I'd say Susan was an old friend, but it wasn't until this past February that we actually met at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. She was on a book tour, for her latest astrology book, and I was in town even though I was suppose to be in San Diego that day (long meant-to-be story).

I was thrilled to personally interview Susan. I knew a few things about her, such as she entered the web biz in 1995 (yes, way back then!), had created an award-winning website with a staggering six million readers per month, and that she had written every word of her 500 pages of original content. Plus, I knew about her monthly astrology columns for Self and Eve magazines, her daily and weekly columns for The New York Daily News, that many of her "Year Ahead" books hit #1 on the Barnes & Nobles best-seller list, and that she appears regularly on TV and radio.

Are you with me? Yes, the woman only sleeps four hours a night. What I did not know is that she was born with a terrible birth defect that was extremely hard to diagnose and almost killed her. That she had numerous surgeries on her legs in her teens and was so sick that she had to teach herself high school. That she almost bled to death when she gave birth to her two daughters. And that her husband abandoned them, leaving her alone in Manhattan to support herself and her two daughters, when they were 10 and 13, respectively.

Yes, hers is a story of great ups and great downs. A tale of a survivor, who credits her mother, an astrology scholar, who she calls "little mom" with giving her many gifts. Susan says, "I have the most happy mom on the planet." Not only did her mom give her astrology she says, but a way of viewing life, an appreciation for religion and for the search for the purpose of life. And she says, "she has always believed in me, even when the doctors didn't." Her story of achievement both in her renewed health and her career is amazing. Read on…

Q.
I read that you have a degree in business from New York University.

A.
Yes, I have a degree in business because I never thought I would ever tell anyone that I knew astrology. I had a happy job. I was an agent for commercial photographers. I was self-employed, at the top of my field. What happened was, we were shooting Cheerios, and whenever a big client gave me a piece of work I would always say "thank you" by doing their charts and they loved it and the creative director said my wife would love you, she is the creative director of Time Life Books. He said, go over there and see, Jackie. I became friends with Jackie and after eight years, she said to me, some day I'm going to get you a book, I have a feeling about you. And I said, oh bless your heart. I didn't think she meant it. People say a lot of nice things. Five years later she gets me the book without a proposal, nothing — it became by first book the Astrology Book of Days. She said now we're sending you upstairs because we need an astrology column of course, and you're the one. And I'm like oh-my-gosh.

Q.
As one of the pioneers in web publishing, how and why did you get into it?

A.
Well, it was Time Warner coming to me and saying we'll put you on our website. When I was little, I asked my mother, what would I be when I grow up. She said, you'll make your ultimate contribution to the world with some newly invented form of communication, so new we don't know the name of it. And it will change your life. And I said, mom, wait a minute, let's go back, what do you mean it hasn't been invented? It turned out to be the internet. So when Time Warner came to me, saying we need a column, I went up to see three people — Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth — the suits, and they asked me to write a short, daily column for women. I said, I'll write it monthly, make it non-gender specific, and long. They're like oh-my-god, don't people just come and go and never come back again. People have short attention spans. I said, no they don't, we're going to fly a rocket to the moon. And they said, why? And I said, because we're Time Warner! Well, they said, we don't have money for all this writing you propose to do. I said, we're not going to let money stand in the way. I'll work for almost nothing. We have to do this. I'm going to make a big commercial success out of this. And they said, well, uh, why would you do this? And I told them about my Mom, and I said, this is my destiny." And they said, oh-my-god, you can do anything you want.

Q.
What was your original vision for the site and did you have a 5-year plan for it — or has its success succeeded your wildest dreams?

A.
I don't believe in five-year plans. I knew it would be wildly read because I knew I wanted to give a lot to people. I wanted to give what my mom had given to me. You know, thinking about it, I realized that a lot of people aren't near their families anymore. Everybody moves and travels and takes jobs. They don't have a mom like I did. My mom would calm me down, like before a test I was one of these kids that would get so upset that I would work myself into a pretzel. And she'd say, don't worry, the moon's not in Virgo, they're not going to ask you all those dates. It really helped to know astrology. I want to do what my mom did for me. I want to be the reader's best friend, their buddy. I am the servant of my readers. I want to be really thorough. When I started I wrote 15,000 word manuscripts for my forecasts, now I'm up to 30,000 words — so I'm better. Time Warner thought I would run out of steam, instead I got more energy. And when you write it — you know it. I thought it would be really popular but you can't really figure out where the net is going.

Q.
How has your business degree helped your professional astrology career?

A.
Oh tremendously. I love the art of the deal. I cannot just write without doing a deal, but that's not to say I'm in this for the money. I'm not. That's what makes it hard. I could have sold astrologyzone a million times — people have offered me so much money. And I'm like — "It's not for sale." And you know what — some things are more important than money — having control over your own site, enjoying what you are doing, reading the reader letters. I have a vision for this site. I'd like it to get bigger. I'd like it to be in different languages. I don't want to take funding for my American version, but I would love funding for a Spanish or Japanese version. My business now is all self-funded and it's hard. It cost me $400,000 a year to run — right now — just the American version. I've got to generate a lot of advertising and a lot of books. Everything I make goes into this site and that's with no money to me, that's my overhead. I'm supporting myself but it's tough. I pay like 20 people every month, I mean it's murder. I have an editor who splits her time between Paris and New York, I have a traffic manager in Atlanta, all my engineers are in Texas, my servers are out of California — it's all virtual but I have assistants for New York.

Q.
When you were a little girl — did you picture your life would be like this?

A.
I didn't know. Women weren't really where they are today. I think my own daughters have no idea how women had to fight for rights. I was in high school when Gloria Steinem was on the news a lot. And when I was ready to have children, I read Betty Freidan's book, and she just lays out the problem with absolutely no advice. And I'm like — where's the next chapter? Well the answer is: starting your own business. I had to be there with my children. As a little girl, I didn't have a blueprint and with astrologyzone I didn't either. I tend to think really big and I work very intuitively. I'm very practical. When you're dealing with something new you can't foresee everything and I'm the biggest publisher of e-books in the United States, bigger than Stephen King. Once, I had to talk Chase-Manhattan bank into an extremely big line of credit when I lost my Disney contract. You see I was with Time Warner, then with Disney — when they closed their doors with no warning. They called me at 10 that morning and they said at three this afternoon our doors are going to shut. I said, can I sit on your servers until September (that was April) and they said, all right. I said, I need time to turn the ocean liner around. I went from a big contract to nothing — absolutely nothing. And my staff was looking at me, and I said I'm going over to Chase and I'm talking to them. You have to have a bank behind you and you have to have good credit. It's the only thing you've got in this lifetime.

Q.
Many women would like to have a successful career like yours in the field of their choice — what advice would you give them to get there?

A.
I know this sounds crazy, join an organization and work for free in that organization. There isn't an organization on the planet that won't welcome a helper. You can test skills in a very safe way — managerial, writing, communications, maybe even web tools — all kinds of skills. You can fall on your face, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. No one will ever criticize you because after all you're trying — you have a good heart. I took on the newsletter of the organization I belonged to that promoted ethical practices in advertising. Originally, I wanted to be on the board of directors. They said, go away, you're just too new. Six months later they called me up — well, maybe you could be on the board. Doing what? The newsletter. What makes you think I can handle that? You wrote a letter to the New York Times and they published it. On the basis of that? Plus, nobody wants this job. That's when I learned I not only could write, I love to write.

Q.
Since we're in the year 2005, are there any pearls of wisdom you'd like to share with us? Any trend?

A.
Well it's a fabulous year for creativity because Jupiter and Neptune are working so well together. So for people in the arts, where it is so hard to make money, remember I represented photographers, I just feel that people in the arts always seem to be at the end of the food chain and other people take advantage. And my whole job was defending them and I still feel that way and now they can really find venues to make a commercial success from their passion. Its all year — but mainly March and August are spectacular and I write about it in my book.

Q.
Susan, why do you feel that you are a spirited woman?

A.
She laughs. I'm a spirited woman because I suffered and I believe so much in the nobility and the humbling of suffering. It makes you a better person because it opens your heart and makes you see things in others that you might not see. The easy times are just the resting times, like the boxer who sits down and they dump the water on his head, that's the easy time. But, it's when you're boxing and you're exerting yourself that's when you are becoming who you are supposed to be.

© 2005 Nancy Mills

Nancy MillsNancy Mills is the Creator of the Spirited Woman Approach to Life, a self-inspirational writer for women, and the publisher of the highly successful Spirited Woman Blogger Team. More »

12/20/05