The gig: Chani Nicholas, 41, is an astrologer who writes horoscopes and teaches several online classes through her website, Chaninicholas.com. Her weekly takes are not of the "on Thursday, you'll find a new boyfriend" variety. Nicholas regularly veers into the world of leftist politics and has won as many as 1 million monthly readers with writing that is mystical but not cliche. Nicholas makes her living by charging relatively low fees — $21 to $48 — for her readers to take online classes on interpreting their astrological chart, which is a map of the positioning of the planets at the moment that a person took their first breath. She said more than 12,000 people have taken at least one of the classes within the last 14 months. That puts her income over the last year or so well into the six-figure range.
Starting young: Nicholas started studying astrology when she was 12 after her step-grandmother bought her family an astrology session for the family. As soon as the astrologer started talking, Nicholas was hooked. "It was as if someone was speaking a language that I knew but hadn't heard yet." The theory helped her make sense of her parents' divorce, and her new step-siblings, because it offered a concrete explanation for the differences in people's personalities.
Dabbling in horoscopes: A native of British Columbia, Canada, Nicholas moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to try to be an actor. To sustain herself, she did any job she could find, including waitressing at restaurants in Sherman Oaks and West Hollywood and bartending in Culver City. She started seriously thinking about doing astrology professionally when she moved to San Francisco to finish college at the California Institute of Integral Studies, which allows students to earn the credits they need to earn their bachelor's degree. She was writing a lot of essays and found that she kept incorporating astrology into them.
That prompted her to start writing horoscopes, which she sent to friends via email. People liked them, so she got a blogspot.com address and put her horoscopes up every month. "I never thought anyone would ever read it," she said.
She had a ticker that measured her audience and she watched as it went to 300 and then 500. "One day it jumped to 15,000 for a post and I was like, 'Something's happening,' " Nicholas said.
Surprise success: Eventually, Nicholas bought Chaninicholas.com and started posting weekly horoscopes and longer essays that weaved commentary on the world together with an interpretation of the phases of the moon. She still doubted that the mix would appeal to anyone outside of her close circle of friends.
"I thought people are going to hate this, because the woot-woot spiritual yoga heads that want astrology don't want to hear me rant about the world as I see it, and the people that are interested in critically looking at the world aren't going to want astrology," Nicholas said.
But Nicholas started to grow a loyal following. She offered astrological chart readings for $50 to $90 a session, with reduced rates for "people doing social justice work." In the summer of 2014, she introduced online scheduling and by December she was booked through the next summer, with a wait list.
In July 2015, she started offering classes on reading astrological charts, which cost up to $48 and can last 12 weeks. As many as 1,600 people have signed up for a single course, which they access by downloading videos and files that she uploads to Dropbox.
Targeting a niche: There may be more than 1 million people who regularly read Nicholas, but she still sees herself as appealing to a slice of the population that is politically active on the left and socially conscious.
"They are in the struggle, and they are activists and they are working in the world trying to make it a better place," she said of her readers.
Nicholas, who was sporting a shirt that said "Take me to your healer," was asked whether she worried about alienating potential customers who don't want to read their horoscopes alongside, say, a tirade about white supremacy.
"There are literally a million other horoscopes to read. Go read them if mine [tick] you off so much," she said with a smile.
Loving her haters: When Nicholas tells people she meets that she is an astrologist, she expects one of two reactions: Astrology nerds freak out and beg her to tell them about their sign. Others are less excited. Nicholas said that second group feels totally comfortable telling her, "Oh, you're a lunatic. Basically you're a charlatan or a thief. You steal money [from] people and just tell them what they want to hear. You're not to be trusted, you're a witch, you should be burned at the stake."
But that reaction doesn't much bother her, Nicholas said, because she isn't in the business of persuading people to buy into her work.
"I don't need you to approve of me, I don't need you to like anything I do," she said. "I love skeptics, I think they're fantastic. I think we should all be skeptics."
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