NO legit agent or publisher asks for money up front. NONE. New author, old author, green author, blue author… it makes no difference to them.
A legitimate agent does not ask for money up front. They don't make money unless you do, so they won't take on a book they aren't certain they can sell to an editor/publisher.
A legitimate publisher does not make money unless you do, so they won't take on a book they aren't certain they can sell through their distribution.
And that is one of the major pitfalls of a vanity publisher. NO DISTRIBUTION.
YOU have to drive people to their website/online book store. They almost never have accounts with Amazon or other huge third party sites, so the ONLY place readers can buy the book is through them. Readers don't do that. Trust me on this one.
I have a difficult enough time driving traffic to my two legitimate publisher sites - Siren-Bookstrand and Evernight. Readers like their one-click shit on Amazon. Or they have a Nook and it's much easier to get e-books on it through Barnes & Noble. Or they love the buy 10 get one free program on All Romance Ebooks.
Evernight recently launched a trial incentive program on their site to drive up website sales. Siren keeps our books on their site for 4 to 6 weeks before sending them to third party sites, and discounts them to drive sales to the site.
But a vanity publisher does NONE of that. It's up to YOU to drive traffic to the site, or else buy your own print books and I don't know… sell them out of the trunk of your car or something. I'm being serious here. Not only do you pay for everything, but YOU are the only one doing any kind of marketing or selling. They do nothing except take your money and print the book, or upload the e-book version to their site.
Even self-publishing on Amazon is a better deal because Amazon controls the universe and readers flock to it looking for new books. You might have to pay costs up front for a cover, editing, or even formatting, but Amazon doesn't charge you for that. They don't charge you anything except their royalty cut on sales. And if you're good at that kind of stuff - covers, editing, and formatting, you don't *have* to pay for any of it. You can do it yourself for free. Royalties are pretty good through Amazon, and you have distribution on the largest bookseller out there right now.
BOTTOM LINE: If an agent or publisher is asking you for *any* money up front - I don't care what reason they give or what they label it - RUN AWAY. Legitimate ones do not do that.