Please join us in welcoming fellow debut author, Laura Hemphill, to the Ball today! Laura’s novel, BUYING IN, launched this past Tuesday and has already been chosen as a December pick by Glamour magazine and been called “a fine debut about survival in a cutthroat business” by Publisher’s Weekly.
Laura’s writing has appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek and on NewYorker.com. After graduating from Yale, she spent seven years on Wall Street, at Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse, and hedge fund Dune Capital.
She left finance to write Buying In, the high-powered, heart-felt story of a young woman finding her footing in the male-dominated world of finance. On the eve of the financial crisis, Sophie Landgraf becomes embroiled in a multibillion-dollar merger that could save her job, her colleagues’ jobs, and perhaps the bank itself. Like Prep revealed the world of the boarding school, Buying In exposes the culture of Wall Street – the fearless competition, the sacrifices and thrill of a deal, and the extreme lengths people will go to succeed in their careers. Buying In tackles what it means to be a woman in a man’s world, and how to survive in big business without sacrificing who you are.
Laura elected to take our Deb Ball interview and has offered to send one lucky commenter a copy of Buying In—more details at the end of this post! Welcome, Laura!
What inspired you to write Buying In?
There have been some fabulous books about Wall Street. Bonfire of the Vanities and Liar’s Poker are my personal favorites. But those books are written by men, about men – they’re basically temples to the male ego. In their version of Wall Street, women are basically nonexistent. Which is understandable; Wall Street is famously short on women. When I started at Lehman out of college, my analyst class was 110 people, and only 11 of them were women: ten percent. Half of those women quit within our first year. And those are entry-level women. Further up the career ladder, the numbers get much worse. As a woman on Wall Street, you always feel like an outsider. Psychologically, it’s a challenging existence. That’s the experience I wanted to address.
You worked in finance for seven years before switching paths to write Buying In. How did you transition to writing?
It took me a while to get up the courage. I wanted to write a book, but I had no idea whether I could finish one, let alone whether it would be any good. And my job was too all-consuming to finish a book while I was still in it. So I made a deal with myself. If, in the few hours I had away from the office, I managed to write a draft of a book within the year, I was allowed to leave and spend two years trying to finish it. It was a risk, but my time on Wall Street had made me much more comfortable with taking risks. Deciding to reroute your life isn’t nearly as difficult as what happens afterwards, though. The real challenge started when it was just me and my computer and a draft that even I knew wasn’t any good.
So how did you overcome that challenge?
On Wall Street, the number one question is always, what’s my edge? What do I know or what unique qualities do I possess that make me think I know an investment better than the rest of the market? Once I was writing full-time, I spent a lot of time asking myself, what’s my edge? Which was scary because I didn’t really have one. I didn’t have any training as a writer, and I didn’t really know any writers. My only qualification was that I read a lot, which meant I knew just enough to be dangerous: I could tell my writing wasn’t very good, but I didn’t know how to fix it. So my strategy was sheer effort: work longer and harder.
Your protagonist, Sophie Landgraf, is described as a “woman in a man’s world.” Though not quite the same as the world of finance, the world of publishing has its share of gender inequality, as seen by the yearly VIDA count. How would Sophie navigate this? How would you, as an author, advise other women writers to navigate it as well?
As a writer, you face so much self-doubt. You’re constantly asking yourself, is this book any good? Will it fall apart before it’s finished? Will anyone want to read it? You spend a lot of time trying to quiet those voices, at least temporarily, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to write a single sentence. The last thing you need is to pile on more doubts about the fairness of the publishing and reviewing landscape for women. The best thing you can do – and I think Sophie would agree – is tune out the demons, keep your head down, and get to work.
I love that advice, Laura. Readers, how do you quiet your voices of self-doubt?
GIVEAWAY! Comment on this post by noon EST on Friday, November 15th, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Buying In. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
Author photo by: Beowulf Sheehan