Writing is a collaborative effort.
While the elements within the story – characters, setting, narrative arc, etc. – are created by a (usually) solitary author, there are other collaborators behind the scenes who have had a hand in the final product. Those are the names listed in the acknowledgments, and sometimes those mentioned in the dedication. Then there are various forms of collaborative writing, from two (or more) writers creating a structured story to a group of writers creating an improvised story. The former has a defined plotted out narrative, characters and resolution, while the latter has infinite possibilities with regards to the narrative, characters and resolution. Another form of collaboration is writing on a common theme or topic (often published as a collection of short stories or essays).
In all of the aforementioned variations on the writing process, the element of feedback from beta readers, editors and critics (oh my!) is vital. Writing groups (in-person or online) can be helpful or harmful to the writing process, depending on the members in those groups. Some may genuinely want to help, giving constructive criticism, while others just nitpick and argue. While I have not joined any in-person writing groups (I’m too introverted to do so), I have joined a few online (via Facebook) writing groups, to which I’m a passive participant (mostly because of the aforementioned introvert nature, so I don’t really have the confidence to post anything for critique). One needs to have thick (lizard) skin to post musings online and deal with the inevitable feedback from the general public…
This is a form of public writing, I suppose, but then again, there isn’t that much feedback and collaboration in this forum, as it’s quasi-one sided, and it’s not strictly fictional (though it’s not quite factual either, as the majority of these entries are essentially improvised essays).
After the first draft of the story is completed, the editing process begins, which can include recruiting beta readers (or friends / family) to read, with the hope of receiving constructive criticism and not just blanket praise (as many friends and family member are apt to do). Several drafts may result from this, along with a new round of beta readers. Once the final version is set (for the most part) then the task of deciding the publishing method begins, along with the cover design. These days self-publishing is a viable (and probably cost effective) option, and with the rise of e-readers (while convenient and lighter in terms of portability, I still like the feel of a real book in my hand, not to mention the new / old book smell) getting the completed book out and into the public is easier. With the presence of online sites such as Amazon and Goodreads (to name but two of many out there in cyberspace…. does anyone use “cyberspace” anymore?), submitting feedback is instantaneous and (for better and for worse) public.
While there may be one name on the book cover (real or otherwise), there are many people who have a hand in getting the story from the writer’s imagination into a reader’s hands.