Pixelated...ORHyper-pixelated... I actually kind of like these...
In the first one, the gratuitous reflection in the window only serves to draw attention away from the more important elements of the cover. I'd delete that.
The pixilation is indeed a very interesting way to go, and I like the direction you are taking, but you want to be careful to not pixilate to the point of obscuring the identity of the background image. I probably would not pixilate the pole at all. Something you might want to try is having the image begin normally at the top or upper right-hand corner or from the center of the cover and become gradually more pixilated away from that point. You could do this by applying a shaded mask to the image (using Photoshop's Quick Mask Mode and the Gradient tool) and then applying the pixilation effect, which is what I did here...
In this example, the gradient was from the upper right corner to the lower left.
Another way to make the transition might be to duplicate the background layer, apply your pixilation to it and then erase part of that layer, revealing the unaffected image beneath.
And upside to the pixilation is that it softens the image behind the back cover blurb, which was hard to read. You may still want to lighten the grey rectangle behind the text even further.
Hmm.... I think that perhaps the old bugaboo of subjectivity may be getting in your way. That is, you know what your book is about so the cover is more meaningful to you than it would be to someone who's never read it or even heard of it. Apply a test I have often suggested: imagine your cover with the title in a language you don't understand. Would you have any idea of the nature, theme or idea of the book? Or imagine your cover with just the image alone. Would it convey anything significant about the theme or genre? Would you get any sense of intrigue or espionage?
You could easily replace the title with "Our Town" or "Winesburg, Ohio" or "Empire Falls" and the cover would work equally well.
I realize that you included the word "Sheriff" and a star, and a sign reading "Pancakes and PC--Cyber Café" ...but I think that these are much, much too subtle. A cover should not be a puzzle for the reader to figure out. It needs to convey its message in a glance. And the cover needs to be able to convey its message at all scales. Thumbnail size just exacerbates the problem of these too-subtle details. (I might also add that these signs are a little too obviously inserted. You need to make them look a little more like part of the image.)
I realize that I did suggest that "You may also want to consider adding some additional visual element to the image that suggests the nature or theme of the book. A photo of a small town street and the title "Coding Hour" really doesn't convey much information." But that additional visual element needs to be something that is immediately apparent and understandable. Remember that I also suggested that you "Get across the important concepts of the book, don't obsess over specific details." I think that the tiny, subtle signs on the building might come under "specific details." And since you have to work hard to see them, I'm not too sure that they get the book's concept across.
I have done only a couple of covers with small town themes (all by the same author as it turns out). In all of them I made an effort to convey something about the book other than the simple fact of its setting.
One was Vigil, about a woman whose child disappears during a stop in a small town and her lonely, decades-long search for the truth of what happened:
Another, Monuments, about the dark secrets that are revealed when plans are made to demolish an old grocery warehouse:
And the third, Agatite, about a small town torn apart by a murder:
I'm not suggesting that these are great covers, the point is just that the "something" in each cover should be apparent at a glance. In Vigil it's the haunting presence of the woman looming over an empty street, in Agatite a town is literally torn in two and in Monuments I tried to convey a sense of gloom, foreboding and mystery via color and the monolithic building. There is no need to get across plot details or characterization...just a sense of what sort of book it might be. You have a small town image on Coding Hour, but it needs to share the stage a little more equally with that something else that conveys what kind of book you have, rather than dominate the cover as the image is doing now.
I think that you were onto something when you said that you "might also use a filter to make a line drawing out of it..." Segueing from realistic photo to line drawing or 8-bit effect might be a really good way to make that instant visual connection between small town and the cyber theme of the book. I think this is a direction you may want to pursue.
Here is another thought. You refer to a "secret sign" in the back cover blurb. Why not tack a notice onto the pole in the foreground, large enough to be overlapped a little by the title and your name, and put that secret sign on it?
Ron Miller said:
What if the cover image transitioned from a realistic photo to a highly pixilated 8-bit-like rendering?