I have been writing for at least 20 years and publishing for 10. People often ask how I got started. I usually just say I got lucky and caught an editor's eye.
However, I've come to realize that it was more that that. It was about being in the right "frame of mind" at the right time. After years of being told I was a good writer by teachers, friends, relatives, and church administrators, it took a college children's writing course and a couple of SCBWI conferences to make me realize that I didn't want to be good. I wanted to be outstanding!
So...I took a hard look at what I didn't know or hadn't bothered to try. I discovered I had a lot to learn. I'm still learning and attending SCBWI conferences. Don't be afraid of not knowing people at a conference. They are afraid of not knowing you! Check out scbwi.org for upcoming conferences. Who knows? You might get lucky!