I started with what I knew about. My family and my children, it was a personal essay – a two part series about my son who has ADHD and what it is like on a daily basis. It was published about 4 or 5 years ago in my local newspaper, and I have recently resold it to another publication where it was published in December (with the two parts combined into one and edited).
I think if you start with what you know and what you are passionate about it is always the best way to go.
However, it doesn’t sound like you don’t know what you want to write about, but more where you want to shop your work. This is a hard part of publishing.
I think if you can write a ‘blow them away’ query for Family Circle, it may be enough to get their attention without clips. The big national magazines are hard to break into, and this is where being business saavy will help you. Study the publications you want to submit to, read every page, including the ads – this tells you the type of readership they are selling to.
Review the guidelines and make sure your query and ms follows their specs. In other words, make your piece fit into the publication if you feel it belongs there, make no mistakes. Dot your ‘i’s’ and cross your fingers, and send them out.