Symbols and Metaphor on Book Cover Design

All book covers sit somewhere on the metaphorical continuum, because covers must convey the essence of an idea.

When self-pubbed authors commission a cover designer, apparently one thing that often happens is the author asks for an illustration of a scene. But book covers are not for scene illustration. Especially when a huge proportion of book sales happen online, a book cover must convey an idea via a small-dimension image. An illustrated scene is too busy.

Sometimes designers are charged with the task of representing the un-representable. Take nihilism, for instance — a worldview which holds that nothing has meaning. Each of the cover designers below have stuck with black as the dominant ‘colour’, but have also found their own way of representing the idea:

What do these covers represent? Again with the black. Readers understand the vibe if not the content, yet:

Symbols of love (and break up):

Symbolically wrapped books:



Body parts represented with fruit:

Below are further examples of book covers featuring symbolic and metaphorical imagery and design. Notice how many of them are also minimalist (though not always).


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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