The Fairies have been answering a lot of questions about how Smashwords works lately, so I figured it was time for a post about what Smashwords can do to help the self-published author. First and foremost, Smashwords is a distributor. Getting your books to platforms other than Amazon and B&N can be tricky business, and Smashwords can help you with that. Once your book is accepted into Smashwords' Premium Distribution Catalog (which can take some time depending on current volume), it is sent out to the retailers you designate in your Channel Manager.
To find the Channel Manager, log into your Smashwords account and go to your Dashboard. On the left-hand column, you will find a link for the Channel Manager. Click on that and go to the page where all your books are listed, along with the various places Smashwords can distribute them for you. If you're going direct to B&N through PubIt, for example, you'll want to opt out of distribution to B&N via Smashwords. Same thing with any of the other retailers. Because it's extremely complex to list your books directly with Kobo and Apple, if you only have one or two titles, it probably makes sense to distribute to those retailers through Smashwords. Once you start to accumulate a catalog, you may wish to conquer the more complex retailer sites and go direct. At that time, you would opt out of the Smashwords distribution to those retailers.
Word to the wise: Even if you opt out of distribution to some retailers, be sure to check to make sure that Smashwords didn't distribute to a site anyway. I recently logged on to my Smashwords account and found that they had been distributing some of my books to B&N, even though I'd opted them out of Smashwords distribution. I quickly notified Mark Coker, who is always very responsive. They took care of it right away.
If you are asking Smashwords to distribute your books to Kobo and/or Apple, you will need an ISBN. You can get a free one from Smashwords, but we recommend you buy your own from Bowkers. See our post on this topic. You can find the ISBN Manager on the left-hand column of your Dashboard. Click on the link and follow the prompts to record your ISBN. You must do this before Smashwords will distribute your books to retailers that require ISBNs.
Smashwords also sells direct from its own site in a wide variety of formats. Clients often ask me if they can use the formats created by Smashwords' famous "meat grinder" for other retail sites, and the answer to that question is no. Smashwords requires the words "Smashwords Edition" for each file that is uploaded, so you wouldn't be able to post a MOBI file that says "Smashwords Edition" to Amazon, for instance. But one of your customers could purchase the MOBI version from Smashwords and read it on her Kindle.
There are lots of little secrets to successfully formatting for Smashwords, and the Fairies can help you with demystifying that part of the equation for $25 per book.
Do you have other questions about Smashwords that I haven't answered? Feel free to ask!