In Praise of Plain #BookCovers


Does your very favorite book have fancy art work on the cover? If it does, would you have liked the book less if the cover had been plain? In my own case, most of the illustrated book covers on my favorite books fail to do justice to the story within. A plain cover like the one above would have done as well, in a few cases, it would be better.

The book above is En Ĉinio Batalanta by T. Hasegaŭa, published in 1945 by the Japana Esperanta Librokooperativo (Japanese Esperanto Book Cooperative) and printed in China, probably because the communist ideology of the book’s author was unwelcome in Japan at the time. I bought the book on Ebay, knowing nothing about the content and thinking it a war memoir from a Japanese soldier rather than an activism memoir of a Japanese communist who had to flee her country and live in China. The plain cover with only  a few lines and some very faint red stars for decoration works well for me— enough for me to buy the book based on it.

002This is a book from Germany’s Reclam press, known to students of German literature around the world for its inexpensive tiny books covering great German writers. This one is one of my favorites among Schiller’s plays, based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots.


Another German play, this one by Bertold Brecht (1898-1956). I picked this one up second-hand in a thrift shop in the USA. Another plain cover that uses only lines for ornamentation. Notice also that the typeface/font used is also very plain.


This book cover is somewhat less plain, with its colorful border and the logo at the bottom. In Spanish, this is a devotional commentary on the book of Philippians (a book of the Bible).


And finally, here is a plain cover on a contemporary English-language book published by Tyndale Fiction (a Christian publishing house). It’s hard to see in the photo but the book title ‘Vanish’, as well as being in tiny script next to the author Tom Pawlik’s name, is in larger off-white letters in the central white area of the cover.

Why Plain Book Covers are Timely

1. Plain book covers can be a meaningful choice. Think of the ‘plain’ traditions of the Amish. They choose not to use certain colors, or any type of print or decorated fabric, in making their clothing. Does that make an Amish dress ugly when you compare it to a dress cut from the same pattern but made of gingham or calico (print fabrics)? No, Amish plain dress is beautiful in its simplicity. And so are simple book covers.

2. Plain book covers are a thrifty choice for the e-book age. Most successful indie authors will tell you that the vast majority of their book sales are sales of the e-book rather than the print book. Now, supposedly some book shoppers closely scrutinize the book covers when shopping for a books on or other online shops, but I’ve never done so myself. I look at the book description instead. But once I’ve bought the book, I seldom if ever see the book cover.

The New Gatekeeper

Now indie publishing ‘experts’ demand that we should pay $500 or more to a book cover artist. Most of these ‘experts’ ARE book cover artists, in fact. $500 for a book cover that may never be seen? For short stories? Knowing that an indie writer may need to write ten to twenty short stories and novels before any real degree of success hits?

That seems to be demanding a new type of gatekeeper in the way of a new indie writer— you must have the wealth to spend thousands of dollars just on book covers in order to see if you can make it in the writing world. Because, I guess, only the wealthy have anything worthwhile to say to the world.

But that’s bunk. For someone like me— a person with Asperger Syndrome living on SSI disability— this new ‘gatekeeper’ is a way of saying I must give up forever on the notion of being an indie author. Because on SSI disability I will NEVER have the funds to buy fancy book covers to get started in indie publishing.

My current fiction-writing plan calls for publishing some short stories with sequels, just as Hugh Howey did. Howey had a number of them out when the first of what became his ‘Wool’ series became popular enough for him to start writing sequels to it. How much money would I have to sink into book covers before my writing became profitable if my career goes like Howey’s, which is not that likely?

Does that mean I’m stuck with plain book covers? No! For me, plain book covers are a choice— a way of saying ‘yes’ to the non-rich writers of the world.

The Plain Book Cover Manifesto

Because fancy book covers don’t guarantee quality content, I vow that as a reader I will give equal attention to writers who use plain book covers— and writers whose book covers are flawed. In fact, the plain book cover shall become my new standard of beauty in book covers.

As a writer, I vow that I will create plain book covers for my work now. And if my writing should prosper, I will still use mostly plain book covers. No slapping an illustrated cover on every book just to look prosperous. Illustrated covers should be reserved for those occasions when a fine and fully appropriate piece of cover art is available.

Because writers who are poor, disabled, of minority race or third-world nationality, unable to create their own fine art, widows, orphans, and all the other disadvantaged of the world also have stories to tell, I vow I will listen to them— whether they can afford $500 book covers or not!

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the work of struggling young artists. I do, and I hope they will find many clients who will buy their art because they want to, not because they feel they have to.

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