A lot of people are really into boat shopping, but I'm not much into any kind of shopping, nautical or otherwise. The nice thing about buying a relatively cheap boat, like I did, is that the penalty is small if things don't work out. Even if I can't sell it and the whole thing just sinks in the Pacific, it's really not that much money.
Rather than spending a lot of time following people's extensive and expensive suggestions for joining clubs, making friends, going to shows, leading on buyers, I implemented a brief but wideband buying processing, and essentially just bought a boat. I was sailing within a month of seriously having the notion.
I have no regrets. If after a year, I realize sailing isn't going to be part of my life (doubtful), merely having a floating refuge away from home is valuable in-and-of itself. If I decide to take things more seriously, I am infinitely more equipped for a high-dollar buying process. You see all of these people on SailNet asking for other people to tell them what sort of boat they want. Once you've owned a boat for a while, you know for yourself.
So my advice, which probably contradicts a lot of people on here, for the inexperienced sailor, is to just buy something inexpensive that seems basically acceptable, and get sailing as fast as you can. Don't worry too much about making mistakes. (But if it's expensive, get a survey!)