Until recently, I had a dirty little secret. I write horoscopes. Or at least, I used to. Now it's not such a dirty little secret because a) I've just told you and b) there aren't that many horoscope clients left in my portfolio any more, anyway. But back in the day - oh yes. I was the BBC Slink teen astrologer for 13 years until the site closed last year and provided daily teen horoscopes throughout that time.
I also wrote the Metro daily horoscopes for a few years, and lots and lots of others too - I wrote baby horoscopes for a supermarket chain, beauty horoscopes for a major US beauty company, wedding horoscopes for numerous places, financial horoscopes for an insurance chain, more teen ones, monthly this time, for two exotic clients in Denmark and Finland... the list went on and on. I also wrote numerous 'one off' new year or valentine type horoscope features for big name women's mags - until one of them decided to use my work but give it a by-line of a very famous astrologer instead of using my own name. That all turned very nasty, that last one, and I try to forget. *Shudder*
You might think that this was a track record to be proud of. My husband, bless him, certainly thought so and would waste no time in telling people proudly about my various clients while I smiled through gritted teeth and quickly changed the subject. I wasn't particularly proud; not ashamed either, exactly, but, well, embarrassed. You see, as a professional astrologer. I know better than anyone that sun sign horoscopes are by their very nature generalisations at best and at worst a load of tosh. Telling someone that I was writing them made it sound as though I - and worse, every other member of my profession - truly believed that all Scorpios were going to win the lottery on Thursday, but not before their Leo partners had ditched them for the next door neighbour and run off to start a new life on the Costa del Sol. Bracing myself for the "but you don't actually believe all that stuff, do you?" question, it was easier to just move off the subject than try to defend *real* astrology and point out that I was just writing horoscopes because it paid well.
Recently I discovered an interesting article in a back issue of The Journalist magazine. It's all about the downturn in opportunities for freelance horoscope columnists, and I discovered that not only was I not alone in feeling faintly embarrassed about writing these things, but that I also wasn't alone in seeing many of my contracts be cut back or just cut all together over the last eighteen months. It's easy enough to see why, and it's not just because I personally upset all those editors. Well, not all of them. The article reports on junior office staff being sent for a quick day's training so that they can write the horoscopes themselves. There are also plenty of free horoscopes on offer out on the web, with no particular guarantee about the expertise of who has written them. And big names syndicate the same thing, over and over and over and over again, for peanuts as far as individual clients are concerned. Or there's always the DIY option - I have actually been told by one former client that the staff will just make them up from now on, without even any attempt to do it properly. After all, can the general public tell the difference? To an astrologer, reading that today mercury is opposite Leo or that Jupiter is in Venus (I'm not making this up) is kinda red flag material, but does Joe Public really know or care whether they're being fed rubbish?
Perhaps it doesn't matter. After all, it's all "for entertainment purposes only". On the other hand, to find yourself suddenly dropped in favour of something cobbled together in the intern's coffee break can be irritating. Properly calculated and written with some thought, horoscopes can be very hard work, as anyone who writes or has written them will know. It's a lot of words and a constant demand; it's heavily time consuming and frankly a pain the bum to keep coming up with new and fresh ways of saying the same old thing, day in, day out. But you know, it's a steady income if you build up a good portfolio of clients. And it does mean that you can focus on your consultancy work or your other writing without the big pressure to make so much money from that; if horoscopes are paying the bills, it's easier to indulge your higher intentions elsewhere.
I still get regular enquiries from potential clients about horoscope writing. Only trouble is that the calibre of the enquiries has sunk through the floor. Nowadays most come from someone who clearly has no budget whatsoever or wants to pay £10 a week for exclusive daily horoscopes. Think I'll pass on those. Now that most of my old, comfy clients have gone, do I miss writing the dratted things? No. I miss the income, sure. And I miss writing for teens, because a lot of the feedback from that audience was very endearing - although my teen astrology book "Moon Surfing" is due out in October and will replace (says she hopefully) some of that buzz. But I don't miss the hard slog, or the vague discomfort of feeling that either the general public thinks you're a nutcase or that fellow astrologers think you're selling out. Am I still embarrassed about my track record? Do you know, I think I'm not. There are some beautifully written and professionally done horoscopes out there, from real astrologers, who work incredibly hard on them. It may be entertainment rather than 'serious astrology', but it's entertainment that takes a good deal of flair and skill to get right. I rather think, that now the dust has settled and I can look back with a rosy glow, I'm quite proud to have been in such good company.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I've just read my horoscope in the local rag, and apparently that tall, dark, handsome stranger is on his way towards all us Virgos, so I'd better powder my nose.