Simple can be elegant - beautiful. There was a whole art movement devoted to simple. It's called minimalism. Plain, however is different. It's the kiss of death - somewhere between simple and not quite thought through enough to be called attractive, it is what people pass over when they are looking at something intense.
It's true that the whole She'll Silverstein drawing style doesn't get much play these days... well... sort of. Books don't have covers like this anymore. Everything is super intense surreal technicolored graphics. I feel like cover artists are trying to prove they can splice fractals into a model's skin and this somehow represents fairies. Right. Pass your bullshit onto someone else.
Coverart is important because it is the first thing people see of your book, but you don't have to be a wild graphic artist trained at RIT to have a decent cover. I think people have gotten on this whole kick of "let's make a cover that is louder, sexier, and crazier than eveyone else's" but that has it's limits. The next guy is doing the same thing. It's a pissing contest, but someone can always pee further.
Rather than getting caught up in crazy land and stressing over weird GIMP skills you don't have, aim for something that tells people something about your book visually. What is your book about? What is it's mood? Tone? What feeling do you want your prospective reader to have when they look at your cover? That is what you need to answer because this will tell you exactly what you need on your cover. Truth in advertising... a novel concept.
Regardless of what you choose to do with your cover, remember one thing: people do judge books by their covers. It's better to go ugly than it is plain. An emotional response is better than indifference every time.
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