I’ve been disappointed by many songwriting books which give nebulous, vague advice (e.g. “write what you feel strongly about”), or simply talk about a score. I find the most useful books are the ones that give you exercises and force you to develop your skills, or give you practical advice about career success.
Composing Music: A New Approach by William Russo: My stand-alone favorite songwriting book. This book is a no-nonsense guide to songwriting, taught primarily through exercises. You’ll start out composing short passages with pre-defined rhythms and only a few notes allowed. This can be tough, but will force you out of your comfort zone, and help you learn more aspects about what sounds good or bad musically and why. You’ll also get a bunch of great, original song ideas from the exercises.
Writing Music for Hit Songs by Jai Josefs: Even if you don’t want to write pop songs, I highly recommend this book. This book will show you how to analyze your favorite songs, find out what makes them good, and write better songs yourself. It also gives a good crash-course in necessary music theory.
Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting by Robin Frederick: This book isn’t so much a guide as a reservoir of 126 tips and exercises to help you develop your songwriting skills and overcome obstacles. It’s full of good ideas, and can be read straight through or little by little.
Songwriter’s Market by Adria Haley: Just as novelists and other writers swear by each year’s new edition of the “Writer’s Market”, the “Songwriter’s Market” will help you find out everything you need to know to submit, market, and make money from your songwriting. If you’re serious about making a living as a songwriter, I suggest checking this book out.