Madras PressWhether or not it's warranted, news about mainstream publishing tends to trend toward the bleak. So it's always encouraging to hear about a company who is generating excitement about reading in a new way. Madras Press, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit publisher, is one of those companies. Their goal: to publish individually bound short stories/novellas and distribute the proceeds to charitable organizations chosen by the authors.

The press is inspired by other publishing experiments, like "Concord Free Press, One Story, the old Penguin 60s series, the Penguin Great Ideas series," explains founding editor (and author) Sumanth Prabhaker. But Madras decided to focus on publishing works that were "too long for magazines, too short for trade publishers."

"It struck me as kind of funny that so many writers immediately limit themselves with a certain page restriction when they set out to write a story, especially when print technology and the major distribution systems are perfectly capable of handling stories of basically any length," Prabhaker tells us. "There's really no reason for it, and yet, as I complained to more and more of my friends, it seemed like there were a lot of people in a similar position—stuck with good stories that nobody was interested in. . . . Often it's not even a matter of page count; it's just that the impact of certain stories can be lessened by the presence of other writing on either end, in a literary journal or magazine or collection."

Of course, authors are often pleased to have the opportunity to have a work that would not otherwise be published see the light of day, and sold to benefit their charity of choice. "We're very flexible about this, so our inaugural titles are helping to support a wide variety of places: health and human services, environmental protection, community organizations, a non-profit education institution, etc.," says Prabhaker.

Bobcat by Rebecca LeeEach book costs just $6. "Our books are tiny, and tiny things tend to cost less in our marketplace than regular-size things," says Prabhaker, adding that volunteer labor, free content from the writers and lack of national distribution all allow them to keep their prices lower.  The books are for sale on the Madras Press website and in select independent bookstores only.

The first four titles will ship December 1. Here's a list of titles, authors and charities:

The Third Elevator by Aimee Bender, to benefit InsideOUT Writers (CA)

Bobcat by Rebecca Lee, to benefit Riverkeeper (NY)

Sweet Tomb by Trinie Dalton, to benefit the Theodore Payne Foundation (CA)

A Mere Pittance by Sumanth Prabhaker, to benefit Helping Hands (MA)

Madras hopes to publish another set in 2010, and eventually producing a set of four books every six months.

Would you buy a $6 short story?

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