Author Jayne Allen — the pen name of Jaunique Sealey, who grew up in Detroit — seems to have lived nine lives. The Detroit Country Day School grad left Detroit in 1996 to earn an engineering degree at Duke University, then pivoted her postgrad plans from medical school to Harvard Law School. But audio streaming service Napster’s ascension during Allen’s college years got her excited about music in the tech space, so she started working at a startup record label during law school, commuting between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., while crafting deals with artists and later producing music videos and gaining marketing skills.
“I had a really wide experience there because it was a startup, and that was my first time dipping my toe into that world,” Allen says. “I realized you can learn a lot of things, and do a lot of things, and have a bigger impact the earlier you get involved with a company and the smaller the team.”
In 1984, Allen was ready for her next adventure; she headed west to Los Angeles, where she did marketing work for a tech startup and got involved with Court TV. Her television work sent her briefly into the world of stand-up comedy and improv.
“Only did it for about six months,” Allen says, “but coming from a conventional space and being a lawyer, and having corporate environments influence how you communicate, how you think — just to step so far outside of that, and to get better connected to your real thoughts, your real communication instincts, I would recommend that for anyone.”
Later, Allen was working as part of Universal Music Group’s digital strategy group when she decided she wanted to learn about publishing. She began by writing a book about time management and self-published 250 copies she gave to friends and family. At her next job, while working for Lady Gaga’s digital strategy team, Allen gained the opportunities and knowledge that inspired her to write a social media marketing guide.
But when first trying her hand at fiction, Jaunique Sealey became Jayne Allen. She’d grown accustomed to pseudonyms used in the entertainment industry, and she found that hers provided extra courage as she stepped into the unknown.
“It was something that was completely unfamiliar to me, to … put something of myself out there like that,” Allen says. “You really have to substantively interact with people around a work of fiction, as opposed to nonfiction, where’s it’s very matter-of-fact.”
When Allen had carved out the time (over two years) to write her first-in-a-trilogy novel manuscript, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted — which tells the story of 33-year-old TV reporter Tabitha Walker, who finds herself facing personal, professional, and fertility crises simultaneously — she sent it out to agents but was met with lukewarm responses.
“I think the industry gatekeepers I approached … make their decisions based on what they’ve seen historically, and they didn’t think that the audience would connect to a story told from a Black woman’s perspective,” Allen says. “I just didn’t believe them.”
No stranger to self-publishing, Allen decided to publish and market Black Girls herself.
“This was the story that was burning in my spirit, in my gut,” Allen says. “I’d wake up with it and go to sleep with it. It just wouldn’t leave me alone. I think that gave me the fuel to power through those moments of doubt that still came up.”
All of Allen’s marketing experience led her to connect with readers via social media and book groups; one virtual book group meeting led Allen to finding her agent, which soon led to a four-book deal with Harper Collins Publishers (which published Black Girls Must Die Exhausted last September and its follow-up, Black Girls Must be Magic, in February).
Allen is working on the series’ third book now — it’s currently slated for a February 2023 release — and she’s in talks about a possible screen adaptation of her work.
But while looking forward, Allen also pauses now and then to reflect on the ways her hometown — which she visits several times a year during non-pandemic times — shaped her.
“It took me a long time to go to the Motown Museum, but when I went and saw for myself how Berry Gordy worked around the obstacles in front of him, it made me think, ‘Yeah, I’m from Detroit, too. This is what we do,’” Allen says. “There’s just something about us where we’re not going to be stopped by ordinary obstacles. We’re going to find a way.”
This story is from the May 2022 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more stories in our digital edition.