Member Profile: Judah Freed On Publishing Success, Rejoining ASJA and Giving Back

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In 2010, author, speaker, journalist and consultant Judah Freed moved from his home state of Colorado to Hawaii and founded Hoku House to publish his own books on global thinking and world affairs. In 2016, he made an exception, editing and publishing The Patient, The Doctor and The Bill Collector: A Medical Debt Survival Guide by Robert Goff and Jerry Ashton, two of the three founders of RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit charity that buys medical debt (for pennies on the dollar) and then forgives that debt rather than collect it.

An Indie Book Awards finalist, The Patient, The Doctor and The Bill Collector caught the attention of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” and getting featured on the show put the charity on the national map. In 2018, Hoku House published a follow-on title, End Medical Debt, by Jerry Ashton, Robert Goff and Craig Antico, the three charity founders. The book explains how the U.S. healthcare system became broken and explores options for curing the $1 trillion medical debt crisis.

Judah is now completing revisions on his own latest book, Making Global Sense: Grounded  Hope for the 21st Century, represented by literary agent Michael Wright. The work is inspired by Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense, which won public support for the American Revolution. The new book aims to do the same for global evolution. Judah’s previous works on global thinking won a 2005 Colorado Evvy Award for best personal growth book and the national 2007 and 2012 Silver Nautilus Award for best social change book.

Early in his career, he worked a decade as a reporter, columnist and editor for Denver-area newspapers and magazines. Starting in the 1990s he freelanced almost two decades for the top media industry trade magazines in the USA and Europe, specialized in “new media” and its social effects, speaking internationally on “deep media literacy.” He pioneered trade press coverage of the emerging internet, interactive TV, high-definition TV and distance learning. He recently reactivated his ASJA membership after a hiatus of several years.

ASJA Confidential: How are the sales of medical debt books structured and what effect has that had on your career and writing?

Judah Freed: Let me give you some context. Since its founding in 2014, RIP Medical Debt has purchased and forgiven more than $675 million in debt, mostly from the secondary debt market, paying pennies on the dollar. The charity is on track to forgive $1 billion by the end of this year. Because debt is sold in large bundled portfolios, RIP cannot yet abolish debt for any individuals on request, so debt forgiveness is totally random. The charity uses advanced data analytics to identify those in a portfolio with the most financial hardship from unpaid medical bills, and these people received a letter announcing their debt is cancelled. RIP works closely to remove the debt from their credit records.

Hoku House pays the authors 85 percent of all net revenues, which is the opposite of most book deals. The authors donate all of their book royalties to RIP for medical debt forgiveness. Since a dollar donated to RIP abolishes about $100 in medical debt, every copy sold of End Medical Debt forgives about $500 in medical debt.

ASJA:  How did you decide to take on the medical debt project? As a writer and editor, what gave you the sense that this topic might stand out from the rest of the pack?

JF: I first met [RIP Medical Debt co-founder] Jerry Ashton in the mid-1990s when I was writing a story for TV Technology magazine. During the interview, we found we shared similar values and became friends. So after RIP Medical Debt was launched in 2014, and Jerry [with co-author Robert Goff] was using the services of another company to produce The Patient, The Doctor and The Bill Collector, Jerry asked me as a publishing consultant to fix problems with the editing and layout.

Normally, I focus on teaching clients how to create the best book possible rather than doing the writing and editing for them. It’s the idea of teaching a person to fish, so they feed themselves for a lifetime, rather than catching fish for them so they eat for on day. In this case, since Jerry and Robert were busy, I wound up redoing much of the book, and then Jerry asked me to be the publisher. I agreed to do so in trade for 15 percent of any sales.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) survived the Senate vote in 2017, I advised updating The Patient, The Doctor and The Bill Collector. Jerry wanted to write a brand-new book, which ended up being End Medical Debt, this time adding the third RIP co-founder, Craig Antico. Each author wrote three or four chapters, I did the editing and layout, publishing the book under the Hoku House imprint in December 2018.

ASJA: What about working on your own books?

JF: The modest 15 percent that Hoku House earns from the medical debt book plus my varied consulting work with indie authors and publishers, thankfully, lets me concentrate on my own projects, such as Making Global Sense.

Along with updating Paine’s essay to win modern support for a global sensibility—a common-sense awareness of our sacred global oneness—Making Global Sense also interweaves my own personal stories and includes the emotional and spiritual journey that helped me survive lethal renal cancer in 2016. I’m now gratefully cancer clear!

ASJA: What precipitated your decision to re-join ASJA?

JF: I’ve been deeply involved with professional writing and publishing organizations throughout my career. Along with excellent networking opportunities, participation in ASJA helps me to improve the quality of my own work.

ASJA offers great opportunities to make a difference. Recently, I was invited to serve on ASJA’s First Amendment committee, which now more than ever is dealing with urgent situations of the government overstepping its bounds to interfere with journalists doing their jobs. I want to help in any way I can to safeguard our freedom of speech.

ASJA: What advice would you give to writers, both newbies and seasoned veterans?

Invest in excellence. Put time and energy into mastering the “best practices” in our craft and strive to meet the highest professional standards. Put integrity above making money. To put a new spin on the old saying, if you do what you love—and do it well—the money will follow.

Are you considering joining or re-joining ASJA? Get membership details. We’d love to have you!