Well, a few days ago an email popped up in my box that said "Forgive Me, copy edited." I blinked, then thought, "Okay, so I missed a period or left out a space or something like that. No biggie." Well, they had done slightly more than that. According to the email, they had altered the wording of the story at the very beginning, just slightly, to provide some visual perspective to the reader (the characters are not vertically on the same level and I agree it is unclear the way I wrote it). Other edits were minor – until I got to the end. They had inserted one word at the end of the story. One lousy word that gave away the resolution several paragraphs early.
I had come to it: the dreaded disconnect between editor and author. Artistic integrity demanded that my work roll through untouched. But they own the magazine and they are paying me – in essence, my employer for the duration of this contract. Am I obligated to follow their desires? What would happen if I pushed back? No telling. Maybe they would agree and let it go. Maybe they would come back with some rational explanation I had overlooked. Maybe they would toss the story back to me in disdain and wish me good luck getting it published somewhere else. I've read about authors going round and round with their publishers, resulting in weeks of frustration. I think it always comes down to what's more important to the author: getting published or maintaining their vision. It's a tough call and I've heard from both camps. I judge not; each individual author has to make the call in their own case, based on whatever means more to them. I am (as I suspect most are) somewhere on the continuum; I want to get published and will accept minor changes … but not a wholesale revision and nothing that, to me, rends the impact of my work.
As I sat there and stared at it, I knew this was not going to be something I could overcome. I could not leave the word in; one single word completely disrupted the flow and turned the story into something I did not want. I steeled myself, and responded to the editors as such, resigning myself to whatever happened.
In the end, I blew this into my head much, much more than it was. Ranylt Richildis of PStD, affectionately titled "Editor in Medea," got back to me the same day and assured me that my concerns were addressed, that that one sinister word would not derail our efforts, and that everything was fine. I appreciate their understanding response and realize I built the mountain from the proverbial molehill, for no good reason.
(Muse: Not a shock.)
So, a lesson learned: when it comes to conflict with the editor, just be guided by your instincts.