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Susan Miller may be a master at reading the stars, but it’s her spirit and drive that have guided her to achieve such extraordinary success. Her Web site www.astrologyzone.com, which she launched in 1995, attracts six million unique readers a month. Over the years, she has been the horoscope columnist for publications including the New York Daily News, Self and InStyle. She is currently a monthly contributor to Vogue (Japan) and W (Korea) and is in talks to expand her international reach even further. Her book Planets and Possibilities is available on Amazon and her forecasts are available on ComCast Cable TV’s “On Demand” channel, and by subscription, as SMS text for cell phones, and audio files for iPods. She has appeared on everything from Access Hollywood to Good Morning America. Most recently, she has branched out into product development, including eBooks, calendars and the print on demand publishing venture, My Personal Horoscope, which gives readers their individualized natal horoscopes.
Astrology has always been much more than just a hobby for Susan. She mastered the tradition by studying for 12 years under her mother, who is also an accomplished astrologer. The interest was a lifeline for Susan as a teenager because of a debilitating condition that led her to be bedridden as a child and require a leg brace and crutches for years
Although astrology was her first love, Susan earned a business degree from New York University and launched a career as an agent for commercial photographers. She continued practicing astrology as a side business, writing for publications including McCall’s. At the suggestion of a friend at Warner Books, Susan penned Planets and Possibilities: Explore the World of the Zodiac Beyond Just Your Sign and began building her Internet presence in conjunction with its release.
As the Internet economy bloomed and then burst, Susan used both her astrology and negotiating skills to stay afloat. Her Web site had long been her main revenue stream, but when she lost her licensing agreement with Disney in 2001, she realized she needed to expand and diversify her business. She quickly released a hit eBook through Barnes & Noble and then went on to develop her international contacts and related product lines, all the while continuing to deliver her astrological forecasts to her devotees through her Web site. Whether she is stargazing or making deals, Susan maintains that both business and life should be profitable and pleasurable, and that being a master at what you do is the secret to both.
What we learned from Susan: “The best money you will ever spend is for a lawyer. It’s your Blue Cross for your business. If you try to do contracts without a lawyer, it’s insane. Too many entrepreneurs try to save with lawyers. If you can’t pay for a lawyer, you shouldn’t be in business.”
Know When to Fold ‘Em
““You have to stick up for yourself because no one else is going to do it for you. And if it means walking away from the table; oh, I walk away from more deals than I sign….If one thing doesn’t work, I’ll figure something else out. But it’s not worth it, going into bad deal; it’s never worth it.”
The Art of the Ask
“Lawyers aren’t negotiators. Entrepreneurs are negotiators. I’m good at looking at the person on other side of the table and saying, ‘I deserve this because, one, two, three, four,’ whereas a lawyer will be very impartial. You shouldn’t hide behind your lawyer. You should be the one selling. If you can’t look the other party in the face and say you deserve something, you have no business asking for it to begin with. If you have to hide behind your lawyer, and you have to say, ‘Oh, what did they say?’ That’s already a bad sign. You don’t deserve it. You’re not going to get it.”
Learn from the Big Guys
“I learned from these big companies. They taught me. Like, for example, Disney said, ‘When you get four letters about one subject in one week, that means there are 2,000 people feeling the same way. And you must have a meeting, and you must answer those letters within two days.’ So we learned all of these standards from these big companies.”
Change Is Good
“The scariest time was April 2001, when the bubble had burst. Whenever you have these types of scary situations, where you’re looking into the abyss, and all of your work — my six years of work, at the time — is about to go out the window, your first instinct is to pull out your old tricks. Saturn was very active in the charts, and Saturn teaches you that you need to evolve and not go to the past. But it’s not human nature to do that.”
The End of the Line
“I had been at Time Warner. I had gone to Disney. They had paid me a licensing fee, it was plenty to pay my staff and to do proper customer support….But now I was looking at no more money coming in, nothing, zero. And I wasted valuable time trying to go to other companies to see if they would give me a license for Astrology Zone. But the wind had changed direction. That was never going to happen again – I mean, I suppose you should never say never — but not for another ten years, or something. The whole Internet was falling apart.”
Inspiration Is Everywhere
“I sat on the couch and I said, ‘Please, God, give me a clue.’ And I kind of prayed on the couch. I closed my eyes and thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ I opened my eyes, and The New York Times was on my coffee table. I looked down, and just above the fold, it said, ‘Steven King is making a fortune on e-books.’ So I picked up the paper, and I said, ‘Gee, my readers love that I’m ahead. I bet they would buy this as an e-book.’ I went to Warner and said: ‘Would you want to do that?’ Their response: ‘No, we don’t do things like that.’…So, you don’t care if I go to another publisher? Because my book was with Warner Books, and I had felt compelled to give them my next project. And they said ‘No, no.’ Then I went to Barnes & Noble, and they said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to do it.’ It was such a success that they actually went to a traditional book within two weeks. I mean this thing went like fire.”
What Would Martha Do?
““[My site] is the hub of the wheel. You need a hub of the wheel. Martha Stewart was at Time Inc., and she had Martha Stewart Living, and they said, ‘You know, this magazine is just not making money. We’re going to downgrade the paper.’ And she said, ‘Really?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, and you’re using really topnotch photographers. They’re going to go to grade B.’ And she goes, ‘What if I bought back my magazine?’
…She had this magazine, and it wasn’t even making the real money. Everything else was making the money. But you need a hub of the wheel. Maybe your hub of the wheel makes money. Mine does. But it doesn’t have to necessarily, if you have other things making money, which I do also. It just depends on your particular business, whether it’s seasonal or not. But she was so smart to have that one thing coming out every month that was beautiful and a perfect expression of her.
I just love her. Everything she does. She keeps the quality so high. When I have bad days, in business, I straighten up a little bit and I say, ‘I’ll bet Martha had a bad day like this. She figured it out, and I will too.’”
This Featured Lady was profiled by Sarah Tomlinson, a freelance writer in Los Angeles.
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