“You were 7 and I was 12..” I began my mock book pitch for my international publishing course. Class had technically ended 10 minutes ago, but my teacher asked us all to stay behind for one last pitch. Mine. In our last class on a Friday. I just wanted to get it over with.
I’d gone over my pitch over and over and over again the night before, pacing my living room, trying to keep my voice low as to not wake up my boyfriend. First, I’d open with a dramatic reading of the breathtaking dedication poem, then flow into a brief synopsis of the novel, highlighting some of the most unique characters from the impoverished neighborhood in which it was based. I would end the summary on a high note with mention of a little boy who’s tale taught me I could gasp simultaneously from tears and laughter. Then I’d segue into the author’s background, pinpoint the cross-relevance of this story’s key themes into all markets with immigrant populations. Finally, I’d finish with a carefully thought out thinking point.
Or so I thought. Being last to present and having intense stage fright made all of that harder then I’d hoped. Somewhere in the middle of the opening poem, my voice started to quaver. One by one, my disinterested classmates put down their phones and began to look up at me as I spoke.
“Oh shit,” I realized. “They can hear how nervous I am. They can see me flailing. I must sound absolutely pathetic.”
Even more students were staring at me now. Somehow, I just kept talking. I mixed up the order I wanted to describe the characters in. But I kept talking. The more they looked at me, the closer I felt to passing out. Then something peculiar happened. It’s like my mind went blank, but my mouth just kept right on talking. I did the rest of the pitch on auto-pilot, not even listening to myself anymore. Who knows what I said. Before I knew it, my presentation was over, my classmates were clapping politely and my teacher was shaking my hand. When she dismissed the class, I rushed out mortified.
The weekend put some much needed separation between the class and my disappointment. On the Monday, my friend Alexander told me, “I’m so mad I was sick and didn’t get to see your book pitch on Friday. I heard it was really good.”
“You heard MY book pitch was really good?” I repeated, unconvinced. “Are you sure about that?”
“Yeah, that’s what everyone’s saying. That yours and Paula’s were the best. You guys knocked it out the park.”
I smiled politely. Obviously he’d been misinformed. Paula had been amazing, but I had struck out up there. Maybe he’d misheard who the second person was. I was just grateful that nobody had told him about how I’d sputtered through the whole thing. How the entire class had just stared at me, emotion in their eyes, pitying me.
But throughout the week, Alexander’s sentiments were repeated. More classmates, who had been present, told me they’d loved my pitch. They said they wanted to read the book! I couldn’t understand it. When we got our marks back, even my teacher had given me nearly a perfect score. She commented that I could have a real future in international publishing. Me. The basketcase who couldn’t control her stage fright. What was going on? Had we all been in the same room?
Eventually, I asked another classmate about my pitch. I asked her how shaky and stupid I must have looked, out there in front of them all.
“I didn’t notice you were nervous at all,” she shrugged, “you seemed so poised.”
“Poised!?” I exclaimed. “But then why was everyone looking at me like that?!”
She smiled, “because they were interested in what you had to say.”
Who would’ve thought?