In my zeal to publish my previous post (we were on our way to one of our "Where the Buffaloe Roam" trips) I omitted one important reason why unpublished authors should attend a writer's conference, and it ties in to a comment Elysabeth made on my Year in Review post about submitting materials for publication.
If you re-read that post, you'll note "query agents and editors" isn't among the items listed. In reality, it is. Submitting my work to agents and editors for consideration falls under "Attend Blue Ridge Conference".
You've heard the discouraging phrase that to get published, you have to be published? That's not entirely accurate. While yes, it's best to build a body of work such as Seeing Through the Lies author, Vonda Skelton, did by first selling magazine articles, and fellow hiking group member, James Robert Smith, author of The Flock did by scripting comics. But writers attempting to sell those articles, or devotionals, short stories, and even novels often encounter the gut-wrenching phrase "Not Accepting Unsolicited Materials" on their targeted agent/publisher's website where submission guidelines should be.
Is that unfair? Absolutely not. Agents and editors have a finite amount of time and most likely, families who would like some attention as well. But they're always looking for talent. So to avoid an avalanche of submissions and ensure they're dealing with people who are serious about writing (and paying the expense of a writer's conference is an excellent indication a writer is serious) they accept materials from--including, but not limited to--referrals from one of their clients, from those they query after getting wind of their work through a trusted source, and from authors they've met with, and whose work they agreed to review, during a writer's conferences.
I speak from experience. During the 2007 Blue Ridge Conference, I met with an editor who accepted material from me after my pitch. I didn't sell my work on that occasion, but I might after chatting with an agent or editor during the 2008 Blue Ridge Conference (and D.V., the 2008 ACFW conference.)
So there is hope. You just have to know where to find it.