Preface: I know there is a book thread, however, I wanted to discuss in detail and share with people who do this (or are trying to do this) for a living certain books that have helped me get repeat clients, find new clients, make enough money, and continue the cycle, and quit my day job. I got my first paid assignment a little over a year ago and I'm now working full time and things have only been going up and up since then. I attribute a lot of my technical knowledge to this forum, but I have learned so so much from reading, in terms of business knowledge, artistic knowledge, etc, from books that it would be wrong to discount that entire knowledge base.
There are a TON of crappy photography books out there. Like any subject with a huge user base, there is going to be a lot of material and not all of it will get filtered. Some of these choices will be obvious but others less so.
#1 (this should be the most obvious)
Best Business Practices for Photographers: Second edition by John Harrington
At $23.00, a total steal. This book has paid for itself hundreds of times over (seriously) in what it taught me. I learned none of this in school. I think going to art/photography/anything but business school grossly under-prepares you for the reality outside of school. It is said a lot but I'll say it again. I spend easily 50% (probably some weeks closer to 80%) of my working time negotiating business deals, sending invoices, following up, emailing clients, meeting clients, etc. And about 20% in any given week actually out on a job shooting. This is a business book, not a photography book, but we're doing this as a business right? It covers everything you need to know (and is eye-opening). I am still learning new things from this book almost 8 months after purchasing it and reading it cover to cover multiple times. I reference it multiple times a week and use it for nearly every negotiation I take part in. He breaks down every possible scenario you could see yourself in while you're running a business.
If you're doing this for a job (part time, full time, anything) and don't own this book, there is really no reason not to. Put off buying your next lens, accessory, whatever, and buy this. Your revenue will increase, you will learn a ton, and you will have formed many solid goals for your business. He runs an awesome business and it is really something to aspire to.
#2: VisionMongers by David DuChemin
This is a sort of less technical, but just as valuable to me, book for anyone interested in doing this full time. It is a collection of tips and hints from David, who has also interviewed about 15 fairly-well-known pros about how they got started (Karl Grobl, Chase Jarvis, Joe McNally, Dave Delnea, Darwin Wigget, Zack Arias, DuChemin himself, etc). This isn't so much a technical manual as much as it is a more biographical look at all of these working pros. It shows that there are a lot of different ways to get into the business, how to find and explore new markets, how to market yourself, why each pro is successful (hint: niches) etc. It is also a harsh reality check for anyone looking into getting into this - a lot of the stories contained in it show just how hard it can really be to make a living doing this. One of the pieces of advice on becoming a full time photographer is: "Don't." Certainly sobering, and all in all a great read with more of a personal feel than 'Best Business Practices.'
#3: Lurzer's 200 Best Ad Photographers Archive
This is different than the other books- Nothing but images here. Absolutely nothing but high-end photos. If you ever want to feel inadequate, pick up one of these books. I paid $30.00 at Barnes And Noble for the latest edition, I've forgotten what I paid for older ones but they do sell out and after that prices go through the roof. The reasons I insist on these books are:
-Nothing but the best images in photography. Whether you shoot people, landscapes, architecture, whatever, there is a section in this book for it. You'll recognize a few of the photos from national and international ad campaigns. However, most of them are from personal collections or obscure campaigns and the concepts and ideas are just not to be believed in some of the photos. Things you've never thought of. If I ever need inspiration for a job, I will flip through here and try to pull some ideas out for clients. Not only are there far-flung surreal works, but the usual 'clean' wedding shots, portraits, and so on are all included. Even if you don't shoot for commercial and corporate clients these books are an amazing source of inspiration.
-No text. Just images. Big images. I like this because a. I can reverse-engineer the photos in my head without being told exactly what happened in the photo which flexes my creative muscles a bit and I might even have a happy accident and come up with something cooler and b. the images speak for themselves. If I'm feeling bored I will look through, get some ideas and go take some shots to see if I can figure out 'how they did that' or 'how they lit that' or 'how they photoshopped that,' whatever it is.
So to sum it up, just a library of the best imagery on offer. If you do any type of photography, these (as I've reiterated) are just awesome sources of inspiration.
#4 The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally
This one doesn't need a lengthy explanation (nor is it necessary for running a business, but it is very helpful if you want to set your work apart from others, which is great for both hobby photographers and working photographers alike), but if you ever work on location with lights, I see no reason not to own this book. Nothing but good light, how to light effectively, how to gel, when to gel, and so on. Another book who's spine is white from me flipping though it so often. I don't light on location very often, but when I have, what I've learned from this book is great. Mostly that there has to be a reason for the light to be there (which is an issue I see all the time. like wtf, okay, there's a model in the middle of a field. why is there a light on her?). I promise that you will be very surprised and a light will go off when you read about the way he lights and why. Of course, his commentary is great and if there was one photographer who's advice I'd take above all others, it would probably be JM. And lastly, this book will teach you to set yourself apart from every strobist clone out there. I'm still working on that part, but it's hard, and I'm getting there
So to sum up...I'd suggest reading these if they apply to you and you are trying to make some sort of living doing this.