Originally the second book in The Front Runner series was to be Billy's Boy. William Morrow had always planned a sequel to The Front Runner, and Patricia Nell Warren signed a contract to do it around 1976. But there was a problem. In The Front Runner, the "boy," John William, is born in 1977. To write about him as a young teen — say 14 — meant that the sequel had to be set in 1991. But in 1976, writing about 1991 amounted to science fiction. After arm-wrestling with the first draft for a year, the author went to her editor, Jim Landis, and told him the book wasn't working. Morrow and the author agreed to tear up the Billy's Boy contract.
In 1992, the author started thinking about the sequel again. But so much time had gone by, the U.S. had changed so much, and the gay world had changed so much, that she realized there needed to be another book between The Front Runner and Billy's Boy.
The "book between" was Harlan's Race.
The sequel was begun in 1992. The author's new agent, Mitch Douglas at ICM, was eager to represent this book, convinced it would be a bestseller. However, when he finally submitted Harlan's Race to gay editors at a number of major houses in late 1993, they were not interested. By then the author had met Los Angeles publicist Tyler St. Mark, also a gifted writer. St. Mark and Warren decided to team up and publish Harlan's Race independently. They started Wildcat Press to do it.
Following the publication of Harlan's Race in spring 1994, Patricia Nell Warren returned to the task of writing Billy's Boy. As part of her research, Warren spent six months as a volunteer in a Los Angeles Unified School District program for GLBT dropouts. With the book now able to be written in its "real" time frame, the work progressed rapidly, and the book was complete by early 1996. Several young people from the L.A. area served as consultants on the novel.
Billy's Boy was published in spring 1996 to wide critical acclaim from young and older critics alike, in both the mainstream and the gay world. It received that year's Editor's Choice Lambda Book award, and was a runner-up in the Small Press awards given by Independent Publisher.
Abroad, Billy's Boy was published in German by Argument Verlag in Berlin. It stirred up a censorship furor with right-wing Germans, yet also received good reviews from German critics, according to Argument.