When 26-year-old Sumanth Prabhaker realized that the set of four novellas he had recently finished writing were unsalable—too long for magazines and too short for most book publishers—he decided to publish them himself along with the short fiction of established writers who also experienced the same difficulty.

“It seemed a little sad and a little arbitrary to me that short fiction is so hard to place. I really like the novella form; it’s something I enjoy reading,” said Prabhaker, who has just launched Madras Press in Brookline, Mass., specifically to publish short works. His first list of four pocket-size (5 X 5) paperback originals, ranging in length from 25 to 100 pages--Aimee Bender’s The Third Elevator, Trinie Dalton’s Sweet Tomb and Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat, as well as Prabhaker’s own A Mere Pittance--will ship December 1.

As a book production manager for Pearson, Prabhaker is comfortable with what he calls “the nerdy work” of designing the books and covers. For him, the most time-consuming part of establishing the press has been distribution. In order to keep costs down so that the books can retail for $6 to $8, he decided to skip commercial distribution. Instead he’s been in touch with 30 or 40 of the largest independent booksellers directly about carrying Madras’s books and will also sell books online at www.madraspress.com.

To give writers a more personal investment in the press, Prabhaker plans to donate the proceeds from each book to a charity of the author’s choosing. Madras’s inaugural list will benefit: InsideOUT Writers, which conducts writing classes in Los Angeles’s Juvenile Hall System; the Theodore Payne Foundation, which promotes and preserves California wildflowers and native plants; River Keeper, an environmental program; and Helping Hands, which trains monkeys to help the disabled.

Other authors who have signed with Madras include Joy Williams, winner of a Rea Award for the Short Story, and Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa, whose works are just starting to be made available in this country.