The Myth of the Lone Ranger Author

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

As more and more people venture into self publishing, I’ve noticed that for many, it’s a rude awakening how much help they actually need even though they’re thinking of it as a DIY project. I think that’s because, with traditional publishing, most writers are somewhat shielded from the number of people whose work touches their book somewhere along the line.

Sometimes we have this romantic fantasy of the writer as a loner, holed up in his/her writing cave, emerging to deliver a masterpiece to the publisher, then retreating once again to remain forever invisible while the book sells itself.

It got me to thinking about one of the truths of publishing that doesn’t seem to be addressed or acknowledged often enough:

Publishing is a collaborative business.

It’s tempting to think of a finished book as the product of a single brilliant individual. It’s true that everything hinges on the author. You may spend months or years of your life digging that book up from deep down inside you and wrestling it to the page. You’ve given it your all.

But when you’re done with it:

→ An editor will edit it.
→ A copyeditor will copyedit.
→ A proofreader will proofread.
→ A designer will design and typeset the interior.
→ Another designer will create a cover.
→ A marketing team will strategize and execute a marketing plan.
→ A publicist will promote it.
→ A sales team will pitch it to buyers.
→ A printing company will print your book.
→ Bookstores will sell your book.

By the time your book arrives in the hands of a consumer, dozens of people have played an important role in getting it there.

You’re the most important part of this collaborative team. Without you, no one else on the team has a job.

But it’s good for us to remember that while the art and craft of a book is a solo venture, the business of books is collaborative. Don’t get too used to the fantasy of the solo artist in a cave, toiling alone. If that’s the life you want, well, not even self-publishing will provide that for you. If you want the lone ranger life, you and your family members may be the only ones reading your book.

Have you thought about the collaborative nature of publishing a book? Are you okay with it?

38 Responses

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  1. The bridge from Earth to Heaven is made of the linked arms of the faithful, their courage and muscles spanning the abyss.
    * Nothing I have done is mine alone; there are a thousand voices behind every word I write, and the prayers of my friends provide the thermals that keep me aloft, and alive.
    * And YOU, Rachelle, are the foundation-reason I am still writing, and still doing my best to contribute. You passed on BPH when I queried, but you sent a kind note that I have held in my heart, an encouragement that has only grown brighter in the passing years.
    * You’re the dream-agent who never represented me, but you gave me hope, and a purpose.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Andrew, you just made my day. Thank you. Your presence here is such an encouragement to all of us, and your wisdom is a gift to us. I appreciate you!

      • Rachelle, thank you so much; being part of this community means more to me than I can say, and I am honoured beyond words.
        * I’m not sure how to say this, so I’ll just say it…your encouragement gave me the courage to keep writing, and now, that the main part of what I write has segued into maintaining my blog…I’ve been able to help people. More than I ever thought possible…people who have caught a glimpse of the joy that can be found in life in spite of dreadful circumstances, and sometimes because of them. It’s the best thing I’ve done in my life. I get emails from Australia and England and South Africa and the Philippines…I never envisaged reaching a world.
        * You are a part of this, Rachelle. When I didn’t know if I could really write, you assured me that I really could, and in that you’ve helped me to relate the story of the hope that God has kept lit in my heart.
        * Glad to have you on my team. High five!

      • Rachelle Gardner says:

        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser » Hey Andrew, high-five back atcha! The world is a better place because of your gift with the written word. And I’m SO glad you get emails from around the world. We all need that kind of encouragement and the assurance that what we do means something. What a blessing that you continue to use your words to reach the world.

  2. CJ Myerly says:

    One of my favorite things about reading a book is the acknowledgements. I am fascinated with the process and how much goes into creating a book.

    I love the collaborative aspects of publishing a book. I can’t wait to be there.

    • I always read the acknowledgements! On of the sweetest things I’ve experienced was to see my own name in the acknowledgements after I and another relative worked so long to get my grandfather’s stories self-published. The fact that he, at 99, who didn’t even know what to call them (he just wrote up a page of thank yous and told me to put it somewhere in the book) would be sure to thank us and the many others who had assisted him over the years in his endeavors, was so heartwarming!

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      CJ, I love the acknowledgments too! I always read them. I love the collaborative nature.

  3. Carol Ashby says:

    From beta readers and critique partner to my cover designer and editor, even an indie like me has a team that makes having a book successfully in market possible.
    *Add to that all the blogs and webinars and books on the craft and business of writing, and it’s a long list of people who make writing both easier and more profitable.
    *Thanks to B&S for all the training and for this forum for meeting writer friends that you’ve given me since I started following your blog in 2014!

  4. I was given a book. It felt wrong from the get-go. The title and cover didn’t match each other or the story (half-way through the book, I gave up looking for the scene on the cover). The print was hard to read and lacking the usual cues (funny how I never see them when they are there, marking the end of a scene or a pattern of speech). Format, punctuation and grammar errors kept derailing my train of thought. The book was a one-woman show, and I wanted to leave at every intermission. I got though it, for the sake of the person who gave me the book. I asked her if she wanted it back, and she said, “not really.”
    * Oh, Lord. I want my book to inspire more than “not really.” Send me every helper I need to make it a worthy offering for you. Amen.

  5. Kristi Woods says:

    That’s quite a team, Rachelle. It seems right to post the list and start praying for them and our future collaboration now. After all, I wouldn’t be able to successfully perform surgery because I’m not a doctor. Who wants a “designer” without knowledge of cover design and marketing insight helping guide their book’s future? I hope to work alongside experienced and gifted professionals when the time comes to publish. It has made a world of difference with online article publishing.

  6. One of the reasons I would like to start this publishing journey via traditional publishing is because there will be others who (one day) can take the story I’ve written and make it shine in ways I wouldn’t have seen to do so.
    *The various people doing the work they know can make a book amazing as each utilizes his knowledge in their area of expertise. Yes, it begins with the author crafting an amazing story, but when that author has the input of others? Wow the places that story can go.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Exactly, Jeanne – each person doing what they do best. And all in the service of bringing out the very best in the author! I love this process.

  7. I appreciate this post, Rachelle. What you said about the DIY project? That is so true. In my self-publishing experience, I felt more like the contractor in a home remodel. There were definitely steps I could do myself, but still many other jobs I needed to contract out. I might’ve been able to paint the walls, but I needed help laying the tile! The jobs all had to be in sync, too. I’m glad I went through the process because it taught me about what you describe here. Nothing like a good hands-on learning experience!

  8. Long ago I abandoned the idea that the life of a writer is a Lone Ranger existence. It began to feel even a little inappropriate to refer to the work as “my book.” Why should my name alone be on the cover when so many others will contribute so much to it? So I began to think of it as “our book.” I recognize how extreme that like of thought was, but I did go there, and it helped me to recognize all the fingers that will touch my work, to improve it, polish it, and make it shine. It really is a collaborative effort.

    • Damon, I don’t think it’s an extreme thought at all. Years ago I built a small aeroplane called a Pitts Special (too small, as it turned out, for me to fit in the thing and fly it safely). When I sold it (to a smaller man) I was complimented on the workmanship, and could only think of the men, several of whom were by then dead, who had given guidance and set an example that made the project possible.
      * My fingerprints were on the wood and the metal, but theirs were and are on my heart, as the Christ’s are on my soul.

      • Is that the one you built in your living room? I remember you saying something about that a while back. But, yes, you’re SO right. Even the stuff I “know” I learned through life experience, sitting at the feet of fantastic teachers, reading what others have written, etc.

      • Yes, Damon, that’s it…the upper wing is built in one piece, and the living room was the only place long enough…just barely. Had a garage, but it contained the rest of the Pitts, and the remains of a KR-34, a twin to the Parks P-2A which featured in Richard Bach’s books “Biplane” and “Nothing By Chance”.
        * See what reading can do? You get inspired, and it leavesyou with a house that looks like a hangar, that’s what.

      • LOL!!! There is no doubt that your wife loves you a LOT!! 😉

      • Oh, yes, Damon, she does, and the feeling is mutual.

    • I try not to think of them as “my books,” Damon, because God’s fingerprints are all over them (does God have fingerprints?).

      • Exactly!! And I’m going to say that (at least figuratively) that God has fingerprints. Jesus spoke of God’s finger – “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Luke 11:20, and given that Jesus is Emmanuel (God with us), I suspect he left his fingerprints all over the place! 🙂

      • Oh, Damon, “…by the Finger of God I cast out demons…”
        * You’ve got me going, with that one.

  9. A good reminder, Rachelle. It is so amazing to think about all the people who have touched and improved upon a book before I grab it from the library, download it onto my Nook, or purchase it for my sons.

  10. I have thought about the collaborative nature of publishing a book, and I am perfectly fine with it. More than fine with it, because I could never do it alone.

  11. There’s always a bigger picture than the one we see. I guess I’ve always given thought to how many people it takes to produce a book, or a film, or a song on the radio.
    I think it goes back to when I was in high school and my dad came home 5 hours late from work. (He was an engineer for BC Hydro, the provincial power company)
    He came in and said “Well, I just helped California, Oregon, Washington and BC from losing power.” Then he asked my mom to warm up his dinner. From that day on, I always wanted to know what it took to do stuff. He wanted us to know that what we all took for granted took a team effort of thousands of people. And to appreciate their efforts.
    Even the person who buys the ink for the book can take some credit.

  12. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Yup, not only okay with that, but embrace it. As one who truly enjoys books,
    the writing, and sharing them I am thrilled at the collaborative nature. The isolation and the community aspects ebb and flow. Balance is a good thing.

    Also glad for the fellowship of this community.

  13. Tricia M says:

    Or perhaps is it a Lone Ranger existence? Because while the Lone Ranger might have been the face it all (like the author), he still had Tonto. He still had Silver his horse. He still had that guy mining silver for him and making him silver bullets. In the radio version of the Lone Ranger, he even had a nephew. And in most of the shows, the Lone Ranger usually partners with one strong person among the townsfolk who is willing to stand up for justice.

    So perhaps publishing IS a Lone Ranger business. Because even the Lone Ranger couldn’t do it without a whole lot of help. And if the Lone Ranger was smart enough to know he needed help, then surely we authors can be too.

  14. Peggy Booher says:

    In the past few years, I’ve paid more attention to the acknowledgements in books. It’s fascinating to me how many people are involved, even before or while the books are being written. Authors give credit to family, friends, mentors or others whose thoughts gave inspiration to the writers.

  15. Jerusha Agen says:

    Great insight here, Rachelle. I’m learning that some agents are more involved than others in the initial stages of choosing the author’s next projects, too, so that adds another layer to the collaborative process! It can be an adjustment to think of writing books as collaborative, but I think it’s ultimately liberating and encouraging. The author isn’t all alone in the quest to complete and sell the best book possible, so that burden is lessened. She can also take advantage of the expertise of others, thus avoiding many mistakes and disappointments. And, ultimately, I think there’s much greater joy in success when one can share that moment with others that helped achieve it.

  16. For me, the most critical persons on my “team” are the “experts” I go to for information. For my current WIP, I’ve corresponded with law enforcement and forensics folks in three states, with librarians about historical records and events at two university libraries and one state archives library, with professors at three universities, with a congressman and a judge, with an auto body technician and a real estate agent, with amateur gardeners and a seminary graduate. That doesn’t count my endless questions on writers’ group loops. I have the ideas, and I do the research before and after these communications, but I could never, never, never get the details close to right without the people who have been willing to take time out of their day to help me–even after I explain that I’m “Indie.” It amazes me, and I so appreciate them!

  17. With all my great store of knowledge, I have everything under control (where’s the tongue-in-cheek emoticon when you need one?).

    Seriously though, most of what I know of the publishing process, I’ve learned in the past year. Suffice it to say I’m still learning and glad that I don’t have to do it all on my own (really, who wants to be solely responsible for that big list up there?).

  18. Do everyone down the line a favor, and if you’re a writer, get your stuff in on time. 🙂 I freelanced out of house in taking the designer’s template, restructuring it for speed, and then electronically flowing the text in order to create the interior of the book so it was ready to go to print (after several trips back and forth between the editor, the proofreader, and me). I can’t tell you the number of times that we had to make up for weeks which were lost on the front end of the process by writers who didn’t get their materials in by the due date. One editor had a sign in her office which said, “Fast, cheap, good. Pick one.” If you want your book to be its very best when it makes its debut, keep your deadlines so the people down the line have plenty of time to make your book it’s best.